Skip to main content

Full text of "John Keats Volume II"

See other formats


PENCIL  DRAWING  OF  KKATS  BY  CHAHLES  BROWN 

• 


JOHN  KEATS 


BY 

AMY  LOWELL 


WITH  ILLUSTRATIONS 
VOLUME  II 


BOSTON  AND  NEW  YORK 

HOUGHTON  MIFFLIN  COMPANY 

gfc  fctoertftoe  $re«0  Camtotoge 

1925 


CONTENTS 
VOLUME  II 

Chapter  VIII 
A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND.    (June-August,  1818.)      3 

Chapter  IX 
SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT.  (August,  i8i8-January,  1819.)  73 

Chapter  X 
SWIFT  CURRENTS.  (January-July,  1819.)  153 

Chapter  XI 
A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW.  (July-October,  1819.)  267 

Chapter  XII 
ILLNESS.  (October,  i8i9-September,  1820.)  353 

Chapter  XIII 
ITALIAN  JOURNEY.  THE  END.  (September,  i82o-February, 


APPENDIX  A 

APPENDIX  B 

APPENDIX  C  c.- 

APPENDIX  D 


INDEX  6og 


LIST  OF  ILLUSTRATIONS 

VOLUME  II 
PENCIL  DRAWING  OF  KEATS  BY  CHARLES  BROWN  Frontispiece 

From  a  photograph  of  the  original  drawing.  Reproduced  by  per- 
mission of  the  National  Portrait  Gallery ;  London 

DRAWING  FROM  AN  IMPRESSION  OF  A  SEAL  OWNED  BY 
KEATS  Title-page 

Author's  Collection 

FACING  PAGE 

TOM  KEATS  74 

From  an  engraving  of  a  water-colour  sketch  by  Severn,  in  the  pos- 
session of  Miss  Fanny  Speed  MacDonald,  great  grand-daughter 
of  George  Keats 

WENTWORTH  PLACE  120 

From  a  photograph  taken  by  Louis  A.  Holmant  Esq. 

Two  PAGES  OF  THE  FIRST  DRAFT  OF  THE  EVE  OF 

ST.  ACNES  168 

From  the  original  manuscript  in  the  possession  of  the  author 

PLAY  BILL.    KEATS  WAS  PRESENT  ON  THIS  EVENING          218 

From  the  original  in  the  possession  of  Louis  A.  Holman,  Esq. 

SILHOUETTE  OF  KEATS.  ATTRIBUTED  TO  SEVERN,  BUT 
PROBABLY  BY  BROWN  268 

From  the  original  in  the  possession  of  Mrs.  Herbert  L.  Wild, 
grand-daughter  of  Joseph  Severn 

SILHOUETTE  OF  KEATS  BY  BROWN  268 

From  the  original  in  the  possession  of  the  Keats  Memorial  House 
Association 

CHURCH  AT  SHANKLIN  284 

From  an  old  print  in  the  possession  of  the  author 

PAGE  OF  A  COPY  OF  LAMIA  GIVEN  BY  KEATS  TO  B.  DAVEN- 
PORT, ESQ.  424 

Author's  Collection 


viii  ILLUSTRATIONS 

TITLE-PAGE  OF  THE  COPY  OF  LAMIA  GIVEN  BY  KEATS 
TO  FANNY  BRAWNE 
Author's  Collection 

SILHOUETTE  OF  KEATS  BY  MRS.  LEIGH  HUNT  436 

From  a  photograph  in  the  possession  of  Louis  A.  Holman,  Esq. 

KEATS'S  PASSPORT  TO  ITALY  (FIRST  PAGE)  462 

From  the  original  in  the  possession  of  Oliver  R.  Barrett,  Esq. 

THE  TOWERS.   BEDHAMPTON.   WHERE  KEATS  SPENT 
HIS  LAST  NIGHT  IN  ENGLAND  474 

From  a  photograph  in  the  possession  of  Louis  A.  Holman,  Esq. 

KEATS'S  PASSPORT  TO  ITALY  (SECOND  PAGE)  486 

From  the  original  in  the  possession  of  Oliver  R.  Barrett,  Esq. 

KEATS'S  LODGING  IN  THE  PIAZZA  DI  SPAGNA,  ROME  500 

From  a  photograph  taken  by  Miss  Margaret  Shepard 


JOHN  KEATS 

VOLUME  II 


JOHN  KEATS 

•       • 
• 

CHAPTER  VIII 
A    WALKING   TRIP   TO   SCOTLAND 

THE  first  day's  drive  carried  the  travellers  through 
Exeter  to  Honiton,  from  which  place  Keats  sent  a  short 
note  back  to  Mrs.  Jeffrey  by  the  returning  chaise.  In  it,  he 
told  her  that  Tom  had  "borne  his  Journey  thus  far  re- 
markably well."  Thus  far,  but  no  farther.  On  reaching 
Bridport  the  next  day,  Tom  had  a  particularly  severe 
haemorrhage,  which  kept  them  prisoners  in  the  inn  there 
for  some  days.  There  is  no  means  of  knowing  how  long  it 
was  before  Tom  was  able  to  resume  the  journey,  for  we 
have  no  letters  between  Keats's  to  Reynolds  from  Teign- 
mouth  on  May  third,  and  one  from  Tom  to  the  Miss 
Jeffreys  written  from  Hampstead  on  May  seventeenth, 
when  they  had  apparently  been  back  for  some  time.  How- 
ever many  the  days  were,  they  were  terribly  anxious  and 
miserable  ones  for  the  two  young  fellows,  caged  up  in  a 
small  town  where  they  knew  no  single  soul,  with  a  strange 
doctor,  and  only  such  comforts  as  the  Bull  or  the  Green 
Lion  (whichever  inn  they  were  at)  could  afford.  At  last, 
however,  Tom  was  pronounced  well  enough  to  travel,  and 
they  started  again,  taking  the  journey  by  easy  stages  and, 
as  far  as  we  can  judge,  reaching  Hampstead  at  the  end  of 
the  fourth  day.  Tom's  letter  1  to  the  Jeffrey  girls,  not  before 
published,  tells  the  story  of  the  trip,  and  many  other  things 
of  importance.  It  is  too  long  and  too  discursive  to  print  in 

1  Bemis  Collection. 


4  JOHN  KEATS 

full,  some  parts  of  it,  however,  must  be  quoted;  for  one 
reason,  because  they  give  such  a  vivid  picture  of  the  writer: 

"Hampstead  Sunday. 

May  1818. 
MY  DEAR  MARYANN. 

We  received  your  Mother's  Letter  by  Mrs.  Atkins  which 
prevented  my  writing  so  soon  as  I  intended  that  the  Letter 
might  accompany  the  Book  John  promised  you,  and  be  de- 
livered by  Mrs.  A.  on  her  return.  I  thank  you  all  for  your 
kind  solicitude,  the  rest  of  the  journey  pass'd  off  pretty 
well  after  we  had  left  Bridport  in  Dorsetshire.  I  was  very  ill 
there  and  lost  much  blood  —  we  travell'd  a  hundred 
miles  in  the  last  two  days.  I  found  myself  much  better  at 
the  end  of  the  journey  than  when  I  left  Tartary  alias 
Teignmouth  —  the  Doctor  was  surprised  to  see  me  looking 
so  well,  as  were  all  my  Friends  —  they  insisted  that  my 
illness  was  all  mistaken  Fancy  and  on  this  presumption 
excited  me  to  laughing  and  merriment  which  has  deranged 
me  a  little  —  however  it  appears  that  confinement  and  low 
spirits  have  been  my  chief  enemies,  and  I  promise  myself  a 
gradual  recovery  —  this  will  be  grateful  news  to  you.  Our 
leave-taking  was  more  formal  than  it  might  have  been :  and 
at  the  time  I  cursed  the  Doctor,  but  now  I  think  it  better 
as  it  happen 'd  —  I  was  at  the  Window  to  stop  you  as  you 
return 'd  from  the  Cottage,  but  you  did  not  come  our  way 
—  it  did  not  require  John's  assurance  to  convince  me  that 
you  felt  our  departure  ...  I  hope  Mr.  Stanbury  &ct  —  is 
elated  to  twenty  Pounds  a  year  and  that  Waltzing  will  be 
admitted  to  the  Teignmouth  and  other  Town  and  Country 
Ball  rooms  in  Sarah's  time  .  .  .  Convey  my  compliments  to 
Miss  Michell  and  thank  her  for  the  present  —  remember 
me  to  Captain  Tonkin  and  Mr.  Bartlett  if  he  should  come 
your  way  in  the  Labyrinth  of  Teignmouth  —  tell  Captain 
T.  if  he  goes  on  his  projected  Tour  to  Italy  we  may  perhaps 
meet  —  this  leads  me  to  a  development  of  my  plan  which 
I  am  fond  to  think  about  if  I  should  alter  it.  In  [letter  torn] 
weeks  I  shall  be  here  alone  and  I  hope  well.  John  will  have 
set  out  on  his  Northern  Expedition  George  on  this  Western 
and  I  shall  be  preparing  for  mine  to  the  South.  John's  will 
take  four  months  at  the  end  of  that  time  he  expects  to 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND  5 

have  atchieved  two  thousand  Miles  mostly  on  Foot. 
George  embarks  for  America.  —  I  shall  either  go  by 
vessell  to  some  port  in  the  Adriatic  or  down  the  Rhine 
through  Switzerland  and  the  Alps  into  Italy  most  like  the 
Town  of  Paiva  [Pavia]  —  there  to  remain  untill  I  have 
acquired  a  stock  of  Knowledge  and  strength  which  will 
better  enable  me  to  bustle  through  the  world.  I  am 
persuaded  this  is  the  best  way  of  killing  time  —  now  if  I 
should  go  by  vessell  and  the  port  of  Plymouth  has  commu- 
nication with  that  part  I  will  take  Teignmouth  in  my  way 
thither  and  see  you  Once  again  =  it  will  be  some  atone- 
ment for  the  abuse  I  have  lavished  on  your  Native  Town. 
Till  then  I  will  bid  you  farewell.  My  love  to  your  Mother 
and  Sister  . . . 

Believe  me  Your  Sincere  Friend 
THOS.  KEATS. 

P.S.  George  has  been  busily  occupied  in  preparing  for  his 
Journey,  they  both  desire  their  Love  —  perhaps  John  will 
write  =  he  is  also  very  much  engaged  with  his  friends." 

This  letter  was  posted  on  the  following  Tuesday.  It  is  the 
postmark  which  has  enabled  me  to  give  its  exact  date. 

We  have  observed  before  that  Keats,  on  returning  to 
London  from  any  sojourn  anywhere,  was  invariably  "very 
much  engaged  with  his  friends."  The  effect  of  being  again 
among  them  this  time  was  to  make  the  mooted  Scotch  tour 
with  Brown  a  settled  fact.  The  life  of  learning  withdrawn 
from  the  world  could  be  put  off  for  a  bit.  Intimate  and 
sensible  companionship  was  what  he  needed,  and  something 
a  little  exciting  and  unusual  to  take  his  mind  off  the 
difficulties  which  awaited  him.  First  of  these,  of  course, 
was  Tom's  desperate  state  of  health.  If  Tom,  with  the 
usual  optimism  of  the  consumptive,  thought  himself 
capable  of  recovery,  and  even  played  with  the  idea  of  a 
solitary  journey  to  Italy,  John,  with  his  medical  training, 
can  scarcely  have  been  so  deceived  as  to  his  brother's  real 
condition.  That  he  did  not  realize  the  full  gravity  of  the 


6  JOHN  KEATS 

situation  seems  evident,  but  that  he  could  find  any  real 
hope  in  it  cannot  be  believed. 

The  second  difficulty  which  Keats  had  to  meet  was  the 
parting  with  George.  To  emigrate  to  America,  in  those 
days,  meant  virtually  giving  up  one's  friends  and  family 
for  life;  at  least,  if  one  were  neither  rich  enough  nor  idle 
enough  to  snap  one's  fingers  at  the  long  and  expensive 
ocean  voyage  which  a  trip  to  Europe  entailed.  When, 
added  to  this,  the  goal  of  the  journey  was  one  of  the  distant 
settlements  being  established  in  what  was  at  that  period 
the  far  West,  then  indeed  were  the  travellers  cut  off  from 
any  but  the  most  meagre  intercourse  with  Europe. 

George  had  found  his  opportunity,  or  thought  he  had,  in 
deciding  to  take  up  an  allotment  of  land  either  very  near, 
or  actually  a  part  of,  a  settlement  just  being  made  by  a  cer- 
tain Morris  Birkbeck.  Birkbeck  was  a  Quaker,  who  had 
travelled  in  America  and  written  a  book  on  his  experiences. 
He  was  known  to  backwoodsmen  as  the  "Emperor  of  the 
Prairies,"  because  he  had  bought  sixteen  thousand  acres  of 
public  land  at  one  purchase.  This  land  he  proposed  to  sell 
in  parcels  to  prospective  farmers,  and  his  golden  dreams  for 
the  success  of  his  undertaking  were  duly  and  enticingly  set 
forth  in  another  small  volume,  Letters  from  Illinois ,  pub- 
lished in  the  same  year,  1818.  George  Keats,  having 
succeeded  in  getting  from  Abbey  as  much  of  his  share  of 
the  money  due  him  by  inheritance  as  was  free  from  legal  re- 
strictions, was  preparing  to  sink  it  all  in  this  American 
venture.  How  he  expected  to  manage  when  he  got  there,  is 
not  clear.  Trained  to  the  business  of  selling  tea  and  coffee 
wholesale,  he  had  no  other  training  whatever,  knew  nothing 
of  agriculture,  had  no  knowledge  of  horseflesh,  no  experi- 
ence of  woodcraft,  was  in  fact  as  perfectly  unfitted  for  life 
in  a  pioneer  state  as  could  well  be.  He  had,  however, 
determined  courage,  high  hopes,  and  Georgiana  Wylie;  for, 
with  remarkable  insight,  or  with  colossal  ignorance  of  the 
conditions  she  would  be  called  upon  to  face,  Mrs.  Wylie  had 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND  7 

consented  to  an  immediate  marriage  between  her  sixteen- 
year-old  daughter  and  George,  just  turned  twenty-one,  and 
the  prompt  departure  of  the  young  couple  for  their  distant 
bourne.  That  Georgiana  Wylie  should  be  willing  to  go  and 
her  mother  to  let  her,  was  a  matter  of  the  utmost  astonish- 
ment to  the  Keats  circle.  Mrs.  Reynolds  took  no  pains  to 
conceal  her  surprise  at  such  extraordinary  imprudence. 
Many  years  later,  George  Keats,  referring  to  this,  wrote  to 
Dilke:1 

"Altogether  we  have  been  as  happy  as  mortals  usually 
are,  had  Mrs.  Wylie  been  as  wise  as  Mrs.  R[eynolds]  she 
would  have  crushed  in  the  bud  a  reasonable  portion  of 
human  happiness,  and  there  would  not  have  been  any 
little  Keatses." 

Dilke  was  the  only  one  of  his  friends  who  thought  George's 
American  scheme  right  and  proper,  but  George  had  abun- 
dant support  from  John,  who  backed  him  up  to  the  last 
inch. 

The  marriage  took  place  at  the  end  of  May.  On  May 
twenty-eighth,  if  we  can  take  Keats  literally  when,  writing 
to  the  Miss  Jeffreys  on  June  fourth,  he  says:  "George  took 
unto  himself  a  Wife  a  Week  ago." 

The  weeks  preceding  the  wedding  were  hard  ones  for 
Keats.  He  was  ill,  as  a  recently  discovered  note  proves, 
and  it  seems  more  than  likely  that  the  illness,  of  which 
we  know  so  well  the  cause,  was  another  sore  throat.  The 
note,2  which  is  postmarked  "2  o'Clock.  6  JN."  is  short 
and  to  the  point: 


DEAR  SEVERN, 
The  Doctor  says  I  mustn't  go  out.  I  wish  such  a  delicious 
fate  would  put  me  in  cue  to  entertain  you  with  a  Sonnet 
or  a  Poem.   I  am, 

Yours  ever 

JOHN  KEATS.  " 

1  Original  letter  in  Author's  Collection. 

1  Owned  by  Mrs.  Roland  Gage  Hopkins  of  Brookline,  Mass. 


8  JOHN  KEATS 

It  did  not  need  illness  to  depress  him,  however,  George's 
going  was  enough.  George's  project,  as  detailed  by  John  to 
Bailey,  seems  madder  than  ever.  George,  he  says,  has  been 
out  of  employ  for  some  time,  and  he  has  now  decided  "to 
emigrate  to  the  back  Settlements  of  America,  become 
Farmer  and  work  with  his  own  hands,  after  purchasing  14 
hundred  Acres  of  the  American  Government."  This  enter- 
prising and  supremely  ridiculous  plan  has,  Keats  goes  on, 
his  "entire  Consent."  Indeed  Keats  "would  sooner  he 
should  till  the  ground  than  bow  to  a  customer.  There  is  no 
choice  with  him:  he  could  not  bring  himself  to  the  latter." 

Here  is  the  old  nonsensical  "pride"  of  the  year  before 
cropping  up  again.  Poor  George,  he  paid  dearly  for  it  in  the 
end.  But  no  matter  for  that  now.  What  is  important  to  us 
is  the  effect  of  his  decision  upon  Keats.  "I  am  now  so  de- 
pressed that  I  have  not  an  idea  to  put  to  paper,"  the  letter 
continues,  "my  hand  feels  like  lead."  Taking  up  the  letter 
again  a  few  days  later,  we  see  him  in  the  same  state  of 
mind: 

"  I  have  but  a  confused  idea  of  what  I  should  be  about 
...  I  am  in  that  temper  that  if  I  were  under  water  I  would 
scarcely  kick  to  come  up  to  the  top —  I  know  very  well  'tis 
all  nonsense.  In  a  short  time  I  hope  I  shall  be  in  a  temper 
to  feel  sensibly  your  mention  of  my  book.  In  vain  I  have 
waited  till  Monday  to  have  any  Interest  in  that,  or  any- 
thing else.  I  feel  no  spur  at  my  Brother's  going  to  America, 
and  am  almost  stony-hearted  about  his  wedding." 

Buxton  Forman  considers  that  this  letter,  the  two  parts 
of  which  are  dated  simply  "Thursday,"  and  "Monday," 
was  written  on  May  twenty-eighth  and  June  first.  But  I 
own  the  holograph,  and  there  is  nothing  on  it  to  indicate 
the  days  of  the  month.  It  is  quite  evident,  however,  that 
the  letter  was  written  before  George's  wedding,  and,  in 
view  of  what  Keats  says  of  the  date  of  that  event  in  the 
letter  of  June  fourth  to  the  Jeffreys,  I  am  certain  that  this 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND  9 

letter  to  Bailey  was  written  on  May  twenty-first  and  May 
twenty-fifth. 

Keats  seems  always  to  have  been  most  generous  and  loyal 
in  regard  to  the  marriages  of  the  people  he  loved.  No 
selfish  thought  of  himself  and  the  loss  he  may  sustain  by 
such  a  change  in  conditions  ever  appears  to  have  entered 
his  head.  I  would  not  belittle  the  tolerant  sympathy  he 
showed  on  such  occasions,  but  still  I  believe  it  to  be  a  fact 
that,  until  his  own  time  came,  he  had  not  the  slightest 
inkling  of  the  complete  absorption  of  a  man  in  love,  the 
host  of  interests  that  engross  a  newly  married  man  which 
no  bachelor  friend  can  possibly  share.  The  few  young 
couples  whom  he  knew  at  this  period  had  all  been  married 
long  enough  to  be  able  to  pay  attention  to  other  things 
besides  the  marvel  of  a  dual  existence,  and  Keats  made 
friends  with  them  as  they  were.  As  time  went  on,  however, 
he  grew  to  cling  more  and  more  to  those  of  his  friends  who 
were  still  single,  and  even  to  comment  a  little  wistfully 
upon  the  breaking  up  of  his  old  set.  In  George's  case,  he 
simply  had  no  idea  that  marriage  could  bring  about  any 
change  in  their  relations.  We  know  that  he  admired  his 
sister-in-law;  in  this  very  letter  to  Bailey,  he  describes  her 
as  "of  a  nature  liberal  and  high-spirited  enough  to  follow 
him  [George]  to  the  banks  of  the  Mississippi,"  and  two 
weeks  later,  to  the  same  correspondent,  he  enlarges  upon 
the  theme: 

"  I  had  known  my  sister-in-law  some  time  before  she  was 
my  sister,  and  was  very  fond  of  her.  I  like  her  better  and 
better.  She  is  the  most  disinterested  woman  I  ever  knew 
—  that  is  to  say,  she  goes  beyond  degree  in  it.  To  see  an 
entirely  disinterested  girl  quite  happy  is  the  most  pleasant 
and  extraordinary  thing  in  the  world." 

Georgiana  Wylie  being  the  woman  she  was,  there  can  be 
no  doubt  that  if  she  and  George  had  remained  in  Eng- 
land things  would  have  gone  very  differently  with  John. 


io  JOHN  KEATS 

Both  materially  and  spiritually  he  would  have  had  a  stay 
which  he  sorely  needed.  Their  going  to  America  was  a 
greater  blow  than  he  realized,  although  he  realized  it  badly 
enough. 

Keats's  numbness  and  stony-heartedness  was  Nature 
protecting  herself  from  what  must  otherwise  have  been  an 
avalanche  of  emotion  and  revolt.  But  the  numbness  could 
not  last,  the  protection  was  bound  to  break  down,  and  by 
the  tenth  of  June  his  barriers  had  all  given  way  and  he  was 
overwhelmed.  Again  it  is  to  Bailey  that  he  opens  his  heart, 
and  just  because  he  believed  Bailey  to  be  so  much  more 
stable  a  character  than  himself.  "You  have  all  your  life  (I 
think  so)  believed  everybody,"  he  cries  out  in  his  misery, 
"I  have  suspected  everybody."  He  rejoices  that  there  is 
such  a  thing  as  death,  and  says  he  places  his  "ultimate  in 
the  glory  of  dying  for  a  great  human  purpose."  But  his 
agony  is  upon  him  and  will  no  longer  be  gainsaid: 

"I  have  two  brothers;  one  is  driven,  by  the  'burden  of 
Society,'  to  America;  the  other  with  an  exquisite  love  of 
life,  is  in  a  lingering  state.  My  love  for  my  Brothers,  from 
the  early  loss  of  our  parents,  and  even  from  earlier  mis- 
fortunes, has  grown  into  an  affection  '  passing  the  love  of 
women.'  I  have  been  ill-tempered  with  them  —  I  have 
vexed  them  —  but  the  thought  of  them  has  always  stifled 
the  impression  that  any  woman  might  otherwise  have 
made  upon  me.  I  have  a  sister  too,  and  may  not  follow 
them  either  to  America  or  to  the  grave/1 

This  is  no  mere  despondence;  the  stark  simplicity  of  the 
words  has  the  chill  ruthlessness  of  fact.  It  was  all  true,  and 
worse  even  than  he  could  foresee.  The  courage  with  which 
he  dares  look  and  express  is  admirable;  and  the  poet  in  him, 
tortured  and  broken  though  he  was,  held  true  to  his  dedica- 
tion, for  the  paragraph  ends: 

14  Life  must  be  undergone,  and  I  certainly  derive  some 
consolation  from  the  thought  of  writing  one  or  two  more 
poems  before  it  ceases." 


WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          11 

Although  the  Scotch  tour  was  a  settled  thing,  Keats  was 
not  quite  happy  in  his  mind  about  it.  We  see  this  from  his 
telling  Bailey  that  he  is  not  certain  whether  he  shall  be  able 
to  go  on  any  journey  "on  account  of  my  Brother  Tom,  and 
a  little  indisposition  of  my  own." 

It  was  certainly  a  very  questionable  proceeding  to  leave 
Tom  alone  in  Hampstead,  and  Keats  must  have  had  a  good 
deal  of  trouble  in  squaring  his  going  with  his  conscience. 
But  before  we  condemn  him  for  his  final  decision,  we  must 
take  into  due  consideration  his  morbid  state,  and  think 
soberly  of  what  the  effect  of  his  staying  under  the  circum- 
stances would  have  been  on  Tom.  If  he  had  been  well  and 
in  good  spirits,  able  in  all  respects  to  cheer  Tom  up  and 
care  for  him,  then  certainly  he  should  have  stayed.  But  he 
was  not  well,  and  his  spirits  were  at  the  lowest  ebb.  The 
chances  are  that,  reasoning  from  the  facts  as  he  saw  them, 
he  did  the  wise  thing  in  regard  to  Tom  by  going;  for  we 
must  remember  that  he  had  no  idea  how  ill  Tom  really  was, 
and  firmly  believed  that  he  himself  should  return  from  his 
trip  quite  rested  and  refreshed,  and  much  better  able  to 
look  after  Tom  during  the  Winter.  Besides,  Mrs.  Bentley 
was  a  most  reliable  woman,  the  Dilkes  were  close  by,  and 
Haslam,  Severn,  Wells,  and  other  good  friends,  were  sure 
to  keep  Tom  from  feeling  lonely.  Severn  and  Haslam  had 
been  invited  to  be  of  the  walking  party,  but  had  refused, 
Severn  on  account  of  lack  of  cash,  Haslam  probably  for 
business  reasons.  Of  course,  Keats's  decision  to  tramp 
about  Scotland  for  two  months  was,  as  regards  his  own 
health,  a  ghastly  blunder;  but  neither  he  nor  the  family 
doctor,  Mr.  Sawrey,  had  apparently  the  faintest  concep- 
tion that  his  "indisposition"  had  any  underlying  cause. 
He  had  a  mere  passing  sore  throat,  that  was  all.  In  accept- 
ing Brown's  invitation,  Keats  signed  his  doom,  but  he  could 
not  know  that;  and,  indeed,  with  the  general  ignorance 
in  regard  to  tuberculosis  at  the  time,  it  is  extremely  doubt- 
ful whether  the  disease  could  have  been  stayed  in  any  case. 


12  JOHN  KEATS 

Certain  minor  vexations  also  made  Keats  wish  to  get 
away.  Blackwood's  Edinburgh  Magazine  and  the  Quarterly 
Review  had  just  published  fresh  attacks  on  Hunt.  In 
Blackwood'sy  Keats  was  lugged  in  under  the  outrageous 
soubriquet  of  "  the  amiable  Mister  Keats."  The  Quarterly 
article  purported  to  be  a  reviewof  Hunt's  recently  published 
Foliage.  In  this  paper,  Keats  was  not  specifically  mentioned, 
but  both  he  and  Shelley  were  covertly  referred  to.  Keats 
remarks  on  the  subject:  "I  have  more  than  a  laurel  from 
the  Quarterly  Reviewers  for  they  have  smothered  me  in 
'Foliage.' "  That  is  all  he  has  to  say  of  the  matter.  These 
were  flea-bites  to  his  real  sorrows,  although  he  might  have 
guessed  that  more  was  to  come.  Perhaps  he  did,  but  other 
thoughts  pressed,  and  he  was  in  no  temper  to  dwell  on 
possible  complications  of  a  literary  kind.  Then,  too, 
Bailey  had  done  a  nice  thing.  He  had  written  a  very 
complimentary  review  of  Endymion  in  the  Oxford  Herald. 
Keats  was  pleased,  of  course,  but  both  too  much  pre- 
occupied, and  too  wise  in  the  knowledge  that  public  praise 
from  a  friend  often  brings  out  violent  refutations  from 
enemies,  to  be  much  elated.  He  knew  very  well  that  the 
Edinburgh  reviewers  were  merely  biding  their  time. 

The  month  after  George's  wedding  was  passed  by  Keats 
in  as  nearly  normal  a  manner  as  he  could  compass.  Tom 
seemed  to  be  improving,  and  he  and  John  acquired  a  habit 
of  sitting  on  a  bench  opposite  their  lodgings  at  Well  Walk, 
an  occupation  which  reminded  them  of  the  Den  at  Teign- 
mouth,  where,  by  the  same  token,  they  were  heartily  glad 
not  to  be.  One  little  glimpse  of  the  newly  married  couple 
we  have  in  an  unpublished  note1  to  Taylor  from  George 
sent  from  29  Brunswick  Square,  where  presumably  they 
lodged  after  the  wedding.  In  a  postscript  to  the  note,  which 
is  to  thank  Taylor  for  letters  of  introduction  for  America, 
George  says: 

1  Author's  Collection. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          13 

"  Reynolds  will  be  with  me  this  Evening  can  you  come,  I 
think  John  likewise,  you  must  see  Mrs.  Keats  since  you  are 
physognomick  and  discover  if  the  lines  of  her  face  answer 
to  her  spirit." 

Half-past  eleven  on  Monday  morning,  June  twenty- 
second,  saw  George  and  his  wife,  Keats,  and  Brown,  get- 
ting into,  or  mounting  to  the  top  of,  the  "Prince  Saxe 
Cobourg"  Liverpool  coach,  bound  through  Stony-Strat- 
ford, Lichfield,  and  the  Potteries,  and  due  to  arrive  at  its 
destination  in  thirty-two  hours  precisely. 

It  was  a  bright,  warm  morning,  with  Midsummer  Day  a 
bare  twelve  hours  gone  by.  We  can  fancy  the  spirits  of  the 
party.  George  elated;  Georgiana  excited,  delighted,  but  a 
little  tearful;  John  resolutely  forgetting  the  approaching 
separation  and  forcing  his  mind  to  the  pleasures  of  the 
coming  trip,  which,  in  the  exhilaration  of  sunny  air,  swift 
motion,  and  constantly  changing  scene,  became  momently 
less  difficult;  Brown  thoroughly  cheerful  and  happy  and  full 
of  amusing  anecdote.  The  coach  stopped  at  Red  bourne  for 
dinner,  and  there  was  Keats's  old  friend,  Henry  Stephens, 
having  been  advised  by  Keats  of  their  coming,  awaiting 
them  in  the  porch  of  the  Black  Bull  Inn. 

Stephens  was  now  in  practice  at  Redbourne,  and  he  and 
Keats  had  seen  little  or  nothing  of  each  other  for  nearly 
two  years,  but  Keats  had  preserved  a  kindly  recollection  of 
him  and  was  most  anxious  to  introduce  him  to  his  new 
sister-in-law.  Stephens,  years  afterwards,  recorded  his 
impression  of  her  as  he  remembered  it: 

1  "  Rather  short,  not  what  might  be  called  strictly  hand- 
some, but  looked  like  a  being  whom  any  man  of  moderate 
sensibility  might  easily  love.  She  had  the  imaginative 
poetical  cast.  Somewhat  singular  and  girlish  in  her  attire 
.  .  .  There  was  something  original  about  her,  and  John 
seemed  to  regard  her  as  a  being  whom  he  delighted  to 
honour,  and  introduced  her  with  evident  satisfaction." 

1  Colvin. 


i4  JOHN  KEATS 

All  too  soon  for  the  chattering  party,  the  guard  blew  his 
horn  to  warn  all  and  sundry  that  time  was  up,  and  the 
travellers  hurried  out  of  the  inn  and  started  off  once  more 
on  the  long  journey  to  Liverpool.  Thirty-two  hours  of 
steady  coaching  was  no  joke,  but  these  were  all  very  young 
people,  determined  to  find  everything  quite  perfect  that 
came  in  their  way.  And  the  sun  did  not  set  until  after 
eight,  with  the  long,  lingering  Midsummer  twilight  to 
follow.  The  moon  was  a  waning  one,  not  making  its  ap- 
pearance until  near  midnight,  but  Jupiter  was  especially 
bright  that  year.  Perhaps  they  went  inside  the  coach,  but 
I  do  not  believe  it;  I  believe  these  four  gay  young  people 
(and  we  can  suppose  John  the  gayest  of  all  by  intention) 
rode  all  the  way  high  on  the  top,  and  saw  everything 
there  was  to  be  seen,  and  slept  very  little  and  very  un- 
comfortably, which  they  would  not  admit,  and  found  the 
second  day  as  much  to  their  liking  as  the  first,  until 
punctually  at  half-past  seven  o'clock  on  Tuesday  evening 
the  coach  deposited  them,  a  rather  weary  group,  at  the  door 
of  the  Crown  Inn  in  Liverpool.  I  imagine  John  going  to 
bed,  with  his  good  spirits  somewhat  evaporated  as  the 
thought  of  the  inevitable  parting,  now  so  near,  obtruded 
itself,  but  with  the  serviceable  Brown  luckily  on  hand  to 
keep  the  blue  devils  from  engulfing  him.  After  all,  he  was 
very  tired,  and  Scotland  was  still  ahead. 

In  those  days,  people  did  not  book  passages  in  London 
for  a  certain  ship  sailing  at  a  certain  hour  on  a  certain  day, 
and  arrive  at  the  port  of  embarkation  just  in  time  to  step 
on  board.  Sailing  ships  were  at  the  mercy  of  winds,  tides, 
and  various  other  circumstances.  What  people  bound  on  a 
voyage  did,  whether  they  secured  their  accommodations 
ahead  or  not,  was  to  travel  to  the  place  whence  a  ship 
would  sail  some  time  and  wait  until  it  did.  Accordingly, 
when  the  George  Keatses  would  sail  was  extremely 
problematical;  and  it  had  never  been  intended  that  Keats 
and  Brown  should  wait  and  see  them  off.  Brown,  we  may 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         15 

be  sure,  was  anxious  to  begin  the  walking  part  of  the  tour, 
and  Keats  would  certainly  have  had  too  much  sense  to 
prolong  a  leave-taking  which  was  so  difficult  and  painful. 
The  plunge  into  the  future  must  be  taken,  and  Keats 
plunged,  with  all  the  force  of  his  character  helping  him  on. 
It  would  have  been  wiser  to  rest  a  day  after  the  long  coach 
journey  from  London,  but  Keats,  knowing  his  own  mental 
condition,  deemed  otherwise.  From  Liverpool  to  Lancaster 
would  be  dull  walking,  it  was  therefore  decided  to  begin  the 
tour  proper  from  that  place. 

Coaches  to  Lancaster  left  the  Crown  Inn  at  almost  any 
hour,  and  taking  one  of  the  earliest  of  these,  so  early,  in 
fact,  that  George  was  not  up  when  they  departed,  the 
young  men  were  whirled  away  from  Liverpool,  with  its  eter- 
nal rumbling  drays,  and  forests  of  masts,  and  its  atmosphere 
of  salt  and  tar  and  the  far-reaching  contacts  of  trade. 
Keats  had  no  idea  when  he  should  meet  his  brother  and 
sister-in-law  again.  George  he  did  see,  two  years  later;  but, 
with  Georgiana,  the  parting  at  Liverpool  was  final.  By  the 
time  she  was  able  to  return  to  England,  Keats  was  dead. 
Probably  no  natural  law  is  more  merciful  to  man  than  that 
which  prevents  his  seeing  beyond  the  present.  Blue,  Keats 
certainly  was,  when  the  coach-wheels  started  to  turn,  but 
not  so  blue  as  to  expect  from  fate  any  such  bitter  luck  as 
this.  In  fact,  the  bridge  of  separation  once  crossed,  his 
spirits,  as  is  usual  when  one  is  young  and  events  are  inter- 
esting, began  to  rise.  His  letters  during  the  early  part  of 
his  trip  show  him  in  much  better  cue  than  for  a  long  time 
previously. 

Lancaster,  when  they  reached  it,  offered  the  two  eager 
young  men  no  welcome  at  all.  The  town  was  all  in  a  clatter 
over  a  coming  election.  In  1818,  Lord  Brougham  under- 
took to  contest  the  hitherto  unchallenged  supremacy  of  the 
great  Lowther  family  by  offering  himself  as  Whig  candidate 
for  parliament  for  the  county  of  Westmoreland.  Such  a 
state  of  things  was  unheard  of,  and  the  Tory  party  bristled 


16  JOHN  KEATS 

with  rage  and  unwonted  energy,  doing  all  in  their  power  to 
frustrate  such  an  evil  design.  The  Whigs,  no  whit  behind 
their  opponents  in  activity,  were  out  in  force,  and  the 
combination  of  so  much  righteous  fire  and  indignation  on 
both  sides  filled  the  town  with  an  inconceivable  amount  of 
noise  and  bustle.  The  inns  were  full  to  overflowing.  "Not 
a  bed  to  be  had,"  was  the  invariable  answer  which  the 
travellers  received.  At  last  one  of  them  relented  to  the 
extent  of  promising  dinner,  a  meal  for  which  Keats  and 
Brown  had  to  wait  two  hours.  The  problem  of  where  to 
pass  the  night  was  finally  solved  by  discovering  a  private 
house  willing  to  take  them  in. 

Here  was  an  uncomfortable  beginning  indeed,  but  to 
Keats  and  Brown  it  was  no  beginning  at  all,  merely  a  pro- 
longation of  the  prologue.  The  beginning  would  be  next 
day,  and  by  sunrise  they  were  ready  for  it.  Four  o'clock  in 
the  morning  of  Thursday,  June  twenty-fifth,  found  them 
dressed,  knapsacks  packed,  but  —  it  rained,  rained  cats 
and  dogs.  Being  new  to  the  weather,  they  set  themselves 
to  wait,  whiling  away  the  time  with  a  volume  of  Milton 
which  Brown  had  brought  along.  Keats's  contribution  to 
their  joint  library  was  the  miniature  Dante  in  three 
volumes,  translated  by  the  Reverend  H.  F.  Gary,  and 
"printed  for  the  author"  by  J.  Barfield,  in  1814.  These 
were  the  only  books  they  had.  But  they  had  abundance 
of  another  requisite,  each  was  well  provided  with  pens, 
ink,  and  paper,  and,  for  the  rest,  a  change  or  two  of  socks, 
shirts,  and  handkerchiefs.  That  was  as  much  as  the  knap- 
sacks would  hold  or  they  could  carry.  The  fact  that  they 
had  no  duplicate  outer  garments  left  them  badly  at  the 
mercy  of  the  elements,  an  inconvenience  they  had  not 
considered. 

Since  the  house  where  they  lodged  had  not  included  food 
in  its  bargain,  breakfast  must  be  walked  for.  It  was  there- 
fore eminently  satisfactory  when,  at  seven  o'clock,  the  rain 
lightened  to  a  Scotch  mist.  This  was  sufficient  encourage- 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          17 

ment  to  make  them  hurriedly  strap  on  their  knapsacks  and 
set  out.  The  trip  was  actually  begun  at  last. 

Four  miles  brought  the  pedestrians  to  Bolton-le-Sands, 
where  they  succeeded  in  getting  breakfast,  and  the  mist 
clearing  away  at  noon,  they  had  a  pleasant  afternoon's 
walk,  which  included  their  first  real  view.  By  the  time  they 
reached  Burton-in-Kendal,  the  thought  of  dinner  was  by  no 
means  disagreeable,  but  Burton  was  no  better  able  to 
accommodate  them  than  Lancaster  had  been  the  day  be- 
fore. The  landlord  of  the  Green  Dragon  refused  them,  not 
only  food,  but  even  a  room  to  sit  in.  His  house  was  full  of 
soldiers,  he  said,  and  he  could  give  them  nothing.  The 
landlady  of  the  King's  Arms  was  in  no  better  case,  but  of  a 
kindlier  disposition.  Her  loquacity  made  her  at  least  more 
human.  ^'Ah,  gentlemen!"  she  wailed,  "the  soldiers  are 
upon  us.  The  Lowthers  had  brought  'em  here  to  be  in 
readiness  . . .  Dear  me,  dear  me!  at  this  election  time  to 
have  soldiers  upon  us,  when  we  ought  to  be  making  a  bit  of 
money.  Not  to  be  able  to  entertain  anybody.  There  was 
yesterday,  I  was  forced  to  turn  away  two  parties  in  their 
own  carriages;  for  I  have  not  a  room  to  offer,  nor  a  bed  for 
any  one.  You  can't  sleep  here,  gentlemen,  but  I  can  give 
you  a  dinner."  The  sorely-burdened  soul  was  as  good  as 
her  word,  for  dinner  they  did  get,  but  out  they  had  to  go 
after  it  in  search  of  a  lodging.  They  tried  a  public-house  by 
the  roadside  with  no  sort  of  success,  and  as  by  this  time  the 
rain  had  come  on  again,  things  did  not  look  very  cheerful. 
At  length,  however,  they  found  accommodation,  such  as  it 
was,  in  a  miserable  little  den  of  an  inn  in  the  village  of  End 
Moor. 

Walking  trips  were  very  far  from  being  the  fashion  in  the 
early  nineteenth  century.  The  sight  of  two  young  men 
with  knapsacks  on  their  backs  suggested  pedlars  to  the 

1  From  Walks  in  the  North  during  the  Summer  of  1818,  by  Charles 
Armitage  Brown.  Published  in  the  Plymouth  and  Dcwnport  Weekly  Journal 
in  1840.  Day  Collection. 


1 8  JOHN  KEATS 

rural  mind,  and  here,  at  End  Moor,  a  drunken  old  labourer 
made  a  clutch  at  Brown's  knapsack,  at  the  same  time  ask- 
ing if  he  sold  razors  or  spectacles. 

The  next  day,  Friday,  took  them  through  Kendal  and 
beyond  to  a  fine  nine  mile  stretch  on  the  way  to  Lake 
Windermere.  This  walk  Brown  describes  in  characteristic 
vein  as  follows: 

luThe  country  was  wild  and  romantic,  the  weather  fine, 
though  not  sunny,  while  the  fresh  mountain  air,  and  many 
larks  about  us,  gave  us  unbounded  delight.  As  we  ap- 
proached the  lake,  the  scenery  became  more  and  more 
grand  and  beautiful,  and  from  time  to  time  we  stayed  our 
steps,  gazing  intently  on  it.  Hitherto,  Keats  had  witnessed 
nothing  superior  to  Devonshire;  but  beautiful  as  that  is,  he 
was  now  tempted  to  speak  of  it  with  indifference.  At  the 
first  turn  from  the  road,  before  descending  to  the  hamlet  of 
Bowness,  we  both  simultaneously  came  to  a  full  stop.  The 
lake  lay  before  us.  His  bright  eyes  darted  on  a  mountain- 
peak,  beneath  which  was  gently  floating  on  a  silver  cloud ; 
thence  to  a  very  small  island,  adorned  with  the  foliage  of 
trees,  that  lay  beneath  us,  and  surrounded  by  water  of  a 
glorious  hue,  when  he  exclaimed:  'How  can  I  believe  in 
that?  Surely  it  cannot  be!'  He  warmly  asserted  that  no 
view  in  the  world  could  equal  this,  that  it  must  beat  all 
Italy;  yet  having  moved  onward  but  a  hundred  yards, 
catching  the  further  extremity  of  the  lake,  he  thought  it 
'more  and  more  wonderfully  beautiful/  The  trees  far  and 
near,  the  grass  immediately  around  us,  the  fern  and  furze 
in  their  most  luxuriant  growth,  all  added  to  the  charm. 
Not  a  mist,  but  an  imperceptible  vapour  bestowed  a 
mellow,  softened  tint  over  the  immense  mountains  on  the 
opposite  side,  and  at  the  further  end  of  the  lake." 

Before  we  smile  at  Brown's  "immense  mountains"  and 
Keats's  conviction  that  this  view  of  Lake  Windermere 
must  "beat  all  Italy,"  let  us  remember  that  Brown  had 
hitherto  seen  nothing  grander  in  the  way  of  scenery  than 

1  From  Brown's  published  account. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          19 

Wales  could  offer,  and  that  Keats's  experience  of  the 
picturesque  was  limited  to  the  Isle  of  Wight  and  the 
country-side  about  Teignmouth.  To  these  two  extremely 
untravelled  young  men,  the  charming  views  which  the  lake 
country  constantly  reveals,  views  which  remind  an  Amer- 
ican so  strongly  of  bits  of  New  Hampshire,  were  of  an 
unparalleled  magnificence.  Such  eye-peeps  were  tonic  to 
Keats.  He  walked  on  air,  and  drank  in  what  he  saw  in 
great  gulps  of  joyous  appreciation. 

Arriving  at  Bowness,  the  travellers  found  an  excellent 
and  up-to-date  inn,  well  furnished,  and  perfectly  equipped 
for  every  event.  The  first  thing  they  did  was  to  row  out  on 
the  lake  and  dip  up  some  preserved  trout  for  dinner;  the 
next,  was  to  have  a  good  bath  in  the  lake;  and  the  last,  to 
sit  themselves  down  in  the  inn  dining-room  and  dispatch 
the  trout. 

It  is  amusing  to  note  that,  in  their  enthusiasm  for  the 
simple  life,  they  found  the  sophistication  of  the  Bowness 
inn  anything  but  admirable.  Brown  says: 

1  "...  we  thought  the  many  luxuries,  together  with  the 
cold,  civil,  professional  formality  attending  them,  but  ill 
accorded  with  the  view  from  the  window;  nay,  the  curtains, 
furnished  by  some  gay  upholsterer,  about  that  very  win- 
dow, might  almost  be  construed  into  something  like  an 
affront. " 

After  dinner,  they  once  more  took  to  the  road,  walking 
the  six  miles  to  Ambleside  in  a  perfect  trance  of  delight. 
Brown  is  most  eloquent  about  this  walk,  but  a  single  one  of 
his  many  descriptions  must  serve  us  here.  It  is  less  garish 
than  is  usual  with  him,  and  for  that  very  reason  telling 
enough  to  produce  an  atmosphere.  In  it,  we  have  the  very 
spirit  of  the  afternoon: 

"The  wind  had  become  fresh,  waving  the  foliage  and 
rippling  the  water,  —  the  sound  of  which,  together  with 
the  singing  of  the  birds  was  perfect." 

1  From  Brown's  published  account. 


oo  JOHN  KEATS 

The  sun  came  out  as  they  approached  Ambleside,  firing 
the  still  hanging  clouds  to  curvatures  of  gold  and  purple 
brilliance;  and  so  they  reached  Ambleside  and  put  up  for 
the  night. 

Saturday  was  to  be  a  day  of  rest,  or  at  least  they  had 
decided  not  to  tramp  on  that  day,  merely  to  tramp  about. 
Somewhat  less  early  than  the  inconceivably  early  hours 
at  which  they  usually  began  the  day,  these  indefatigable 
young  persons  sallied  forth  to  see  the  sights.  But  these  I 
prefer  to  let  Keats  describe,  and  it  so  happens  that  a 
fortunate  accident  has  put  into  our  possession  a  letter 
containing  a  detailed  account  of  these  first  days  of  the  tour, 
and  in  particular  of  this  Saturday  morning  at  Ambleside. 
This  letter  is  none  other  than  the  first  of  the  series  of  long 
journal  letters,  carried  on  from  day  to  day  and  posted  at 
convenient  intervals,  which  Keats  wrote  to  Tom  during 
this  Summer.  The  history  of  its  discovery  is  among  the 
curious  happenings  of  literary  fortune.  Mr.  Ralph  Leslie 
Rusk,  Assistant  Professor  of  English  at  the  University  of 
Indiana,  has  lately  been  engaged  upon  a  book  on  the 
literature  of  the  Middle-Western  frontiers.  The  course  of 
his  researches  led  him  to  the  newspapers  published  in  the 
frontier  towns  of  the  period,  and  among  others  consulted 
was  the  Western  Messenger,  published  in  Louisville, 
Kentucky.  Going  through  the  files  of  this  paper,  under  the 
date  of  June,  1836,  Professor  Rusk  suddenly  stumbled 
upon  a  communication  from  George  Keats,  which  proved 
on  examination  to  be  a  letter  from  the  poet  to  his  brother 
Tom.  The  opening  of  the  letter  was  not  given,  but  other- 
wise it  appeared  to  have  been  copied  in  full.  That  there 
must  have  been  such  a  letter,  was  evident  from  the  farther 
correspondence,  but  it  had  been  supposed  to  be  lost,  as 
probably  the  original  is  by  now,  yet  for  nearly  ninety  years 
this  faithful  copy  of  it  had  slumbered  unmolested  where  no 
one  had  had  the  wit  to  look  for  it.  Professor  Rusk  realized 
instantly  what  he  had  found,  and  transcribed  the  letter  in 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          21 

full,  and  then,  with  admirable  generosity,  permitted  it  to 
be  printed  in  the  North  American  Review  with  a  few  most 
interesting  comments  by  himself. 

The  value  of  Professor  Rusk's  discovery  is  greatly 
enhanced  by  the  supreme  importance  of  the  letter  itself. 
For  it  ranks  as  one  of  the  best  of  the  Scotch  letters,  and 
certainly  the  one  in  which  Keats's  power  of  prose  descrip- 
tion is  most  in  evidence.  It  was  begun  on  the  evening  of 
the  first  day's  walk,  continued  at  Bowness  on  the  following 
day,  and  finished  at  Ambleside  after  breakfast  on  Saturday. 
I  print  it  here  by  permission  of  Professor  Rusk  and  the 
editor  of  the  North  American  Review. 

1  "Here  beginneth  my  journal,  this  Thursday,  the  25th 
day  of  June,  Anno  Domini  1818.  This  morning  we  arose  at 
4,  and  set  off  in  a  Scotch  mist;  put  up  once  under  a  tree,  and 
in  fine,  have  talked  wet  and  dry  to  this  place,  called  in  the 
vulgar  tongue  Endmoor,  17  miles;  we  have  not  been  in- 
commoded by  our  knapsacks;  they  serve  capitally,  and  we 
shall  go  on  very  well. 

June  26 —  I  merely  put  pro  forma,  for  there  is  no  such 
thing  as  time  and  space,  which  by  the  way  came  forcibly 
upon  me  on  seeing  for  the  first  hour  the  Lake  and  Moun- 
tains of  Winander  —  I  cannot  describe  them  —  they 
surpass  my  expectation  —  beautiful  water  —  shores  and 
islands  green  to  the  marge  —  mountains  all  round  up  to 
the  clouds.  We  set  out  from  Endmoor  this  morning, 
breakfasted  at  Kendal  with  a  soldier  who  had  been  in  all  the 
wars  for  the  last  seventeen  years  —  then  we  have  walked 
to  Bowne's  [Bowness]  to  dinner — said  Bowne's  situated 
on  the  Lake  where  we  have  just  dined,  and  I  am  writ- 
ing at  this  present.  I  took  an  oar  to  one  of  the  islands  to 
take  up  some  trout  for  our  dinner,  which  they  keep  in 
porous  boxes.  I  enquired  of  the  waiter  for  Wordsworth  — 
he  said  he  knew  him,  and  that  he  had  been  here  a  few  days 
ago,  canvassing  for  the  Lowthers.  What  think  you  of  that 
—  Wordsworth  versus  Brougham ! !  Sad  —  sad  —  sad  — 
and  yet  the  family  has  been  his  friend  always.  What  can 

1  Quoted  from  the  North  American  Review,  March,  1924. 


22  JOHN  KEATS 

we  say?  We  are  now  about  seven  miles  from  Rydale,  and 
expect  to  see  him  to-morrow.  You  shall  hear  all  about  our 
visit. 

There  are  many  disfigurements  to  this  Lake  —  not  in 
the  way  of  land  or  Water.  No;  the  two  views  we  have  had 
of  it  are  of  the  most  noble  tenderness  —  they  can  never 
fade  away  —  they  make  one  forget  the  divisions  of  life; 
age,  youth,  poverty  and  riches;  and  refine  one's  sensual 
vision  into  a  sort  of  north  star  which  can  never  cease  to  be 
open  lidded  and  stedfast  over  the  wonders  of  the  great 
Power.  The  disfigurement  I  mean  is  the  miasma  of 
London.  I  do  suppose  it  contaminated  with  bucks  and 
soldiers,  and  women  of  fashion  —  and  hat-band  ignorance. 
The  border  inhabitants  are  quite  out  of  keeping  with  the 
romance  about  them,  from  a  continual  intercourse  with 
London  rank  and  fashion.  But  why  should  I  grumble? 
They  let  me  have  a  prime  glass  of  soda  water  —  O  they  are 
as  good  as  their  neighbours.  But  Lord  Wordsworth,  in- 
stead of  being  in  retirement,  has  himself  and  his  house  full 
in  the  thick  of  fashionable  visitors  quite  convenient  to  be 
pointed  at  all  the  summer  long.  When  we  had  gone  about 
half  this  morning,  we  began  to  get  among  the  hills  and 
to  see  the  mountains  grow  up  before  us — the  other  half 
brought  us  to  Wynandermere,  14  miles  to  dinner.  The 
weather  is  capital  for  the  views,  but  is  now  rather  misty, 
and  we  are  in  doubt  whether  to  walk  to  Ambleside  to  tea 
—  it  is  five  miles  along  the  borders  of  the  Lake.  Loughrigg 
will  swell  up  before  us  all  the  way — I  have  an  amazing 
partiality  for  mountains  in  the  clouds.  There  is  nothing  in 
Devon  like  this,  and  Brown  says  there  is  nothing  in  Wales 
to  be  compared  to  it.  I  must  tell  you,  that  in  going  through 
Cheshire  and  Lancaster,  I  saw  the  Welsh  mountains  at  a 
distance.  We  have  passed  the  two  castles,  Lancaster  and 
Kendal. 

27th  —  We  walked  here  to  Ambleside  yesterday  along 
the  border  of  Winandermere  all  beautiful  with  wooded 
shores  and  Islands  —  our  road  was  a  winding  lane,  wooded 
on  each  side,  and  green  overhead,  full  of  Foxgloves — every 
now  and  then  a  glimpse  of  the  Lake,  and  all  the  while  Kirk- 
stone  and  other  large  hills  nestled  together  in  a  sort  of  grey 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND  23 

black  mist.  Ambleside  is  at  the  northern  extremity  of  the 
Lake.  We  arose  this  morning  at  six,  because  we  call  it  a 
day  of  rest,  having  to  call  on  Wordsworth  who  lives  only 
two  miles  hence  —  before  breakfast  we  went  to  see  the 
Ambleside  waterfall.  The  morning  beautiful  —  the  walk 
early  among  the  hills.  We,  I  may  say,  fortunately,  missed 
the  direct  path,  and  after  wandering  a  little,  found  it  out 
by  the  noise  —  for,  mark  you,  it  is  buried  in  trees,  in  the 
bottom  of  the  valley  —  the  stream  itself  is  interesting 
throughout  with  '  mazy  error  over  pendant  shades.'  Milton 
meant  a  smooth  river  —  this  is  buffetting  all  the  way  on  a 
rocky  bed  ever  various  —  but  the  waterfall  itself,  which  I 
came  suddenly  upon,  gave  me  a  pleasant  twinge.  First  we 
stood  a  little  below  the  head  about  half  way  down  the  first 
fall,  buried  deep  in  trees,  and  saw  it  streaming  down  two 
more  descents  to  the  depth  of  near  fifty  feet  —  then  we 
went  on  a  jut  of  rock  nearly  level  with  the  tsecond  [sic]  fall- 
head,  where  the  first  fall  was  above  us,  and  the  third  below 
our  feet  still  —  at  the  same  time  we  saw  that  the  water  was 
divided  by  a  sort  of  cataract  island  on  whose  other  side 
burst  out  a  glorious  stream  —  then  the  thunder  and  the 
freshness.  At  the  same  time  the  different  falls  have  as 
different  characters;  the  first  darting  down  the  slate  rock 
like  an  arrow;  the  second  spreading  out  like  a  fan  —  the 
third  dashed  into  a  mist  —  and  the  one  on  the  other  side 
of  the  rock  a  sort  of  mixture  of  all  these.  We  afterwards 
moved  away  a  space,  and  saw  nearly  the  whole  more  mild, 
streaming  silverly  through  the  trees.  What  astonishes  me 
more  than  anything  is  the  tone,  the  colouring,  the  slate,  the 
stone,  the  moss,  the  rock-weed ;  or,  if  I  may  so  say,  the  intel- 
lect, the  countenance  of  such  places.  The  space,  the  magni- 
tude of  mountains  and  waterfalls  are  well  imagined  before 
one  sees  them;  but  this  countenance  or  intellectual  tone 
must  surpass  every  imagination  and  defy  any  remem- 
brance. I  shall  learn  poetry  here  and  shall  henceforth  write 
more  than  ever,  for  the  abstract  endeavour  of  being  able  to 
add  a  mite  to  that  mass  of  beauty  which  is  harvested  from 
these  grand  materials,  by  the  finest  spirits,  and  put  into 
ethereal  existence  for  the  relish  of  one's  fellows.  I  cannot 
think  with  Hazlitt  that  these  scenes  make  man  appear  little. 


24  JOHN  KEATS 

I  never  forgot  my  stature  so  completely —  I  live  in  the  eye; 
and  my  imagination,  surpassed,  is  at  rest  —  We  shall  see 
another  water-fall  near  Kydal  [Rydal]  to  which  we  shall 
proceed  after  having  put  these  letters  in  the  post  office.  I 
long  to  be  at  Carlisle,  as  I  expect  there  a  letter  from  George 
and  one  from  you.  Let  any  of  my  friends  see  my  letters  — 
they  may  not  be  interested  in  descriptions  —  descriptions 
are  bad  at  all  times  —  I  did  not  intend  to  give  you  any; 
but  how  can  I  help  it?  I  am  anxious  you  should  taste  a  little 
of  our  pleasure;  it  may  not  be  an  unpleasant  thing,  as  you 
have  not  the  fatigue.  I  am  well  in  health.  Direct  hence- 
forth to  Post  Patrick  [Port  Patrick]  till  the  I2th  July. 
Content  that  probably  three  or  four  pairs  of  eyes  whose 
owners  I  am  rather  partial  to  will  run  over  these  lines  I 
remain ;  and  moreover  that  I  am  your  affectionate  brother 
JOHN." 

In  his  comment  on  the  letter,  Professor  Rusk  opens  up 
an  engaging  problem.  The  passage  in  which  he  does  so,  I 
will  quote: 

"In  its  relation  to  the  poems  of  Keats,  this  part  of  his 
journal  is  rivalled  in  significance  by  only  a  few  of  his  other 
letters.  One  must  be  struck  especially  by  the  remarkable 
passage  which  is  perhaps  reminiscent  of  the  opening  lines 
of  Endymion  and  is  certainly  suggestive  of  both  the  thought 
and  the  imagery  of  the  'Bright  Star*  sonnet:  the  views  he 
and  Brown  had  had  of  Windermere  were  'of  the  most 
noble  tenderness  —  they  can  never  fade  away  —  they 
make  one  forget  the  divisions  of  life;  age,  youth,  poverty 
and  riches;  and  refine  one's  sensual  vision  into  a  sort  of 
north  star  which  can  never  cease  to  be  open  lidded  and 
steadfast  over  the  wonders  of  the  great  Power.'  Though 
the  resemblance  between  this  passage  and  Endymion,  cer- 
tainly more  a  matter  of  thought  than  of  words,  is  possibly 
only  fanciful,  something  more  must  be  said  for  its  relation 
to  Keats's  'last'  sonnet." 

It  has  been  known  for  some  time  that  the  so-called  "last" 
sonnet  was  by  no  means  such,  having  been  written  in  1819. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          25 

Professor  Rusk  suggests  that  it  may  have  been  written 
even  earlier,  possibly,  indeed,  when  Keats  wrote  this  letter 
to  Tom.  Professor  Rusk  commits  himself  so  far  as  to  say: 
"The  passage  in  the  journal  makes  it  extremely  likely  that 
at  least  the  first  part  of  the  famous  sonnet  was  already  in 
Keats's  mind  when  he  explored  the  shores  of  Windermere 
on  June  26,  1818."  This  is  ingenious  reasoning,  but  leaves 
out  the  witness  of  psychology,  for  a  close  study  of  Keats's 
state  of  mind  at  the  time  shows  him  as  quite  out  of  the 
mood  in  which  the  sonnet  was  written.  What  his  mood  at 
the  moment  was,  Professor  Rusk  had  not  adequate  means 
of  knowing,  but  we  may  clearly  see.  For  a  hitherto  un- 
published letter  to  George  contains  two  poems,  one  writ- 
ten that  same  evening,  the  other  on  the  following  day, 
and  both  are  as  unlike  in  tone  to  the  sonnet  as  could  be 
imagined.  I  do  believe,  however,  with  Professor  Rusk,  that 
this  letter  has  a  close  connection  with  the  "last"  sonnet; 
but  what  this  connection  is,  I  shall  wait  until  we  reach  the 
time  when  I  feel  sure  it  was  written  to  consider.  At  the  end 
of  Professor  Rusk's  article  is  a  bit  of  criticism  so  trenchant 
and  true,  so  exactly  in  accordance  with  the  facts,  that  I 
wish  to  set  it  down  here,  in  his  words.  Referring  to  Keats's 
sentence:  "I  shall  learn  poetry  here  and  shall  henceforth 
write  more  than  ever,"  Professor  Rusk  adds:  "Here,  for 
once,  he  realized  his  desire  to  forget  his  own  harassing  per- 
sonality and  live  in  the  eye  alone." 

It  should  be  pointed  out  that  Keats  did  not  mean  that  he 
should  write  more  poetry  "here,"  but  that  the  beautiful 
and  imposing  scenes  he  was  witnessing  would  in  them- 
selves teach  him  much  about  poetry,  and  from  the  memory 
of  them  stored  away  in  his  brain  poetry  was  sure  to  come. 
His  remark:  "My  imagination,  surpassed,  is  at  rest"  must 
be  noted.  It  is  a  touchstone  to  the  creative  temperament. 

The  letter  to  Tom  breaks  off  with  the  early  morning's 
adventures;  for  those  of  the  rest  of  the  day,  I  shall  again 
let  Keats  be  his  own  spokesman.  At  the  moment,  it  is 


a6  JOHN  KEATS 

sufficient  to  say  that  after  taking  in  all  that  the  locality  had 
to  offer,  the  travellers  determined  to  get  on  a  little,  and 
did  so  by  proceeding  to  Wytheburn,  a  little  village  at  the 
foot  of  Helvellyn,  which  they  hoped  to  climb  the  next 
morning.  Here  Keats  wrote  what  seems  to  have  been  his 
second  letter.  This  second  letter1  has  never  before  been 
printed,  so  far  as  I  know,  I  therefore  give  it  entire.  It  is 
addressed  to  "Mr.  George  Keats.  Crown  Inn.  Liverpool," 
and  is  postmarked  "Keswick"  and  "Liverpool."  But 
George  had  sailed  before  the  letter  arrived,  and  it  was 
returned  to  John,  who  has  endorsed  it  "To  be  sent  to 
George." 

"Foot  of  Helvellyn  June  27. 
MY  DEAR  GEORGE: 

We  have  passed  from  Lancaster  to  Burton  from  Burton 
to  Enmoor,  from  Enmoor  to  Kendal  from  Kendal  to 
Bownes.  On  turning  down  to  which  place  there  burst 
upon  us  the  most  beautiful  and  rich  view  of  Winanda  mere 
and  the  surrounding  Mountains  —  we  dined  at  Bownes  on 
Trout  which  I  took  an  oar  to  fetch  from  some  Box  pre- 
serves close  on  one  of  the  little  green  Islands.  After  dinner 
we  walked  to  Ambleside  down  a  beautiful  shady  Lane 
along  the  Borders  of  the  Lake  with  ample  opportunity  for 
Glimpses  all  the  way.  We  slept  at  Ambleside  not  above 
two  miles  from  Rydal  the  Residence  of  Wordsworth.  We 
arose  not  very  early  on  account  of  having  marked  this  day 
for  a  day  of  rest.  Before  breakfast  we  visited  the  first 
waterfall  I  ever  saw  and  certainly  small  as  it  is  it  surpassed 
my  expectation,  in  what  I  have  mentioned  in  my  letter  to 
Tom,  in  its  tone  and  intellect  its  light  and  shade  slaty 
Rock,  Moss  and  Rock  weed  —  but  you  will  see  finer  ones  I 
will  not  describe  by  comparison  a  teapot  spout.  We  eat  a 
Monstrous  Breakfast  on  our  return  (which  by  the  way  I  do 
every  morning)  and  after  it  proceeded  to  Wordsworth's. 
He  was  not  at  home  nor  was  any  Member  of  his  family.  I 
was  much  disappointed.  I  wrote  a  note  for  him  and  stuck 
it  up  over  what  I  knewmust  be  Miss  Wordsworth's  Portrait, 
1  Author's  Collection. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND  27 

and  set  forth  again  and  we  visited  two  Waterfalls  in  the 
neighbourhood,  and  then  went  along  by  Rydal  Water  and 
Grassmere  through  its  beautiful  Vale  —  then  through  a 
defile  in  the  Mountains  into  Cumberland  and  so  to  the  foot 
of  Helvellyn  whose  summit  is  out  of  sight  four  Miles  off 
rise  above  rise.  I  have  seen  Kirkstone,  Loughrigg  and 
Silver  How  —  and  discovered  without  a  hint  *  that  ancient 
woman  seated  on  Helm  Craig/  This  is  the  summary  of 
what  I  have  written  to  Tom  and  dispatched  from  Amble- 
side.  I  have  had  a  great  confidence  in  your  being  well  able 
to  support  the  fatigues  of  your  Journey  since  I  have  felt 
how  much  new  Objects  contribute  to  keep  off  a  sense  of 
Ennui  and  fatigue.  14  miles  here  is  not  so  much  as  the  4 
from  Hampstead  to  London.  You  will  have  an  inexhausti- 
ble astonishment;  with  that  and  such  a  Companion  you 
will  be  cheered  on  from  day  to  day.  I  hope  you  will  not 
have  sail'd  before  this  Letter  reaches  you  —  yet  I  do  not 
know  for  I  will  have  my  series  to  Tom  copied  and  sent  to 
you  by  the  first  Packet  you  have  from  England.  God  send 
you  both  as  good  Health  as  I  have  now.  Ha!  my  dear 
Sister  George  I  wish  I  knew  what  humour  you  were  in 
that  I  might  accomodate  myself  to  any  one  of  your 
amiabilities.  Shall  it  be  a  Sonnet  or  a  Pun  or  an  Acrostic, 
a  Riddle  or  a  Ballad  —  'perhaps  it  may  turn  out  a  Sang, 
and  perhaps  turn  out  a  Sermon.'  I'll  write  you  on  my 
word  the  first  and  most  likely  the  last  I  ever  shall  do,  be- 
cause it  has  struck  me  —  what  shall  it  be  about. 

Give  me  your  patience  Sister  while  I  frame 

Enitials  verse-wise  of  your  golden  name: 

Or  sue  the  fair  Apollo  and  he  will 

Rouse  from  his  slumber  heavy  and  instill 

Great  love  in  me  for  thee  and  Poesy. 

Imagine  not  that  greatest  Mastery 

And  Kingdom  over  all  the  realm  of  verse 

Nears  more  to  Heaven  in  aught  than  when  we  nurse 

And  surety  give  to  Love  and  Brotherhood. 

Anthropophagi  in  Othello's  mood, 
Ulysses  stormed,  and  his  enchanted  Belt 


28  JOHN  KEATS 

Glow  with  the  Muse  but  they  are  never  felt 
Unbosom'd  so,  and  so  eternal  made, 
Such  selfsame  incense  in  their  Laurel  shade 
To  all  the  regent  sisters  of  the  Nine 
As  this  poor  offering  to  thee  Sister  mine. 

Kind  Sister!  Aye  this  third  name  says  you  are 
Entranced  has  it  been  the  Lord  knows  where. 
All  may  it  taste  to  you  like  good  old  wine. 
Take  you  to  real  Happiness  and  give 
Sons  daughters  and  a  Home  like  honied  hive. 

June  28.  I  have  slept  and  walked  eight  miles  to  Breakfast 
to  Keswick  on  derwent  water.  We  could  not  mount  Helvel- 
lyn  for  the  mist  so  gave  it  up  with  hopes  of  Skiddaw  which 
we  shall  try  tomorrow  if  it  be  fine  —  to  day  we  shall  walk 
round  Derwent  water,  and  in  our  Way  see  the  Falls  of 
Low-dore.  The  approach  to  derwent  water  is  rich  and 
magnificent  beyond  any  means  of  conception  —  the 
Mountains  all  round  sublime  and  graceful  and  rich  in 
colour.  Woods  and  wooded  Islands  here  and  there  —  at 
the  same  time  in  the  distance  among  Mountains  of  another 
aspect  we  see  Bassenthwaite  [page  torn]  drop  like  a  hawk 
on  the  Post  Office  at  Carlisle  [torn]  some  letters  from  you 
and  Tom. 

Sweet  sweet  is  the  greeting  of  eyes, 
And  sweet  is  the  voice  in  its  greeting, 
When  Adieux  have  grown  old  and  goodbyes 
Fade  away  where  old  time  is  retreating 

Warm  the  nerve  of  a  welcoming  hand 
And  earnest  a  Kiss  on  the  Brow. 
When  we  meet  over  sea  and  o'er  Land 
Where  furrows  are  new  to  the  Plough. 

This  is  all  [torn]  in  the  [torn]  please  [torn].  Letters  as 
[torn]  We  will  before  many  years  are  over  have  written 
many  folio  volumes  which  is  a  Matter  of  self-defence  to 
one  whom  you  understand  intends  to  be  immortal  in  the 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          29 

best  points  and  let  all  his  sins  and  peccadillos  die  away.  I 
mean  to  say  that  the  Booksellers  will  rather  decline  print- 
ing ten  folio  volumes  of  Correspondence  printed  as  close  as 
the  Apostles  creed  in  a  Watch  paper.  I  have  been  looking 
out  my  dear  Georgy  for  a  joke  or  a  Pun  for  you.  —  there  is 
none  but  the  Names  of  romantic  Misses  on  the  Inn  win- 
dow Panes.  You  will  of  course  have  given  me  directions 
Brother  George  where  to  direct  on  the  other  side  of  the 
Water.  I  have  not  had  time  to  write  to  Henry  1  —  for  I 
have  a  journal  to  keep  for  Tom  nearly  enough  to  employ  all 
my  leisure.  I  am  a  day  behind  hand  with  him.  I  scarcely 
know  how  I  shall  manage  Fanny  and  two  or  three  others  I 
have  promised.  We  expect  to  be  in  Scotland  in  at  most 
three  days  so  you  must  if  this  should  catch  you  before  you 
set  sail  give  me  a  line  to  Port-Patrick. 
God  Bless  you  my  dear  brother  and  sister, 

JOHN." 

John  never  did  send  this  letter  to  George.  The  only  part 
of  it  which  crossed  the  ocean  was  the  acrostic  on  his  sister- 
in-law's  name,  "Georgiana  Augusta  Keats,"  which  he 
copied  into  a  letter  written  in  the  Autumn  of  1819,  intro- 
ducing it  by  saying:  "I  wrote  it  in  a  great  hurry  which  you 
will  see.  Indeed  I  would  not  copy  it  if  I  thought  it  would 
ever  be  seen  by  any  but  yourselves."  The  acrostic  is  little 
worse  than  such  tours -de-force  usually  are.  It  was  a  "  stunt " 
tossed  off  for  fun.  The  other  poem  in  this  letter  is  an  un- 
lucky find  on  my  part;  it  has  never  been  in  print  before.  I 
say  unlucky,  because,  while  the  scheme  of  this  book  makes 
it  imperative  that  I  sedulously  put  in  whatever  verse  I  dis- 
cover which  is  certainly  by  Keats  and  has  not  heretofore 
been  published,  regardless  of  its  merits,  this  poem  is  so 
singularly  poor  that  poetically  nothing  would  have  been 
lost  had  it  remained  in  oblivion.  Keats  was  quite  aware  of 
this;  he  did  not  copy  it  into  the  letter  which  contained  the 
acrostic.  What  little  interest  it  has,  lies  in  the  fact  that  it 
shows  Keats  already  solacing  himself  with  the  thought  of 

1  Mrs.  George  Keats's  brother. 


30  JOHN  KEATS 

meeting.  The  past  he  has  put  definitely  behind  him,  and  he 
is  already  planning  for  the  future.  But,  indeed,  the  whole 
letter  is  so  different  in  tone  from  those  sent  to  Bailey  from 
Hampstead  that  we  see  quite  clearly  what  a  stabilizing 
effect  the  tramp  was  having  upon  him.  He  was  thoroughly 
interested  in  everything  he  saw.  The  kind  of  country 
he  was  walking  through  was  new  to  him,  the  life  of  the 
pedestrian  tourist  equally  so.  Even  the  sound,  dog-tired 
sleeps,  and  the  big  breakfasts,  were  doing  him  good.  That 
this  early  part  of  the  tour  was  really  productive  of  good,  is 
an  evidence  of  what  an  unusually  strong  man  he  was 
meant  by  nature  to  be;  for  we  must  never  forget  that  al- 
ready tuberculosis  had  begun  its  insidious  work  and  such 
strenuous  days  could  only  have  hastened  its  action.  Keats 
was  perfectly  cognizant  of  the  why  and  wherefore  of  his 
raised  spirits  and  his  pleasant  sense  of  well-being.  When, 
in  the  letter,  he  comments  upon  the  fact  of  novelty  serving 
to  banish  ennui  and  fatigue,  for  "ennui"  we  may  read 
"despondence."  For  the  time  being,  he  was  high  cocka- 
lorum, and  Brown  was  a  first-rate  companion  to  keep  up 
his  mood. 

As  the  letter  has  told  us,  Sunday  morning  dawned  with 
a  Scotch  mist.  It  had  rained  in  the  night,  and  not  only  was 
the  going  bad,  but  Helvellyn  was  all  in  cloud;  there  was  no 
possibility  of  any  view  from  it,  so  the  travellers,  comforting 
themselves  with  the  thought  of  Skiddaw  to  come,  tugged 
on  to  Keswick,  eight  long  miles,  to  breakfast.  That  meal 
dispatched,  and  the  weather  clearing  somewhat,  they 
walked  round  Derwent  Water  and  went  to  see  the  Fall  of 
Lodore  in  which  they  were  rather  disappointed,  finding  it 
neither  so  large  nor  so  torrential  as  they  had  expected. 
Keats  wrote  his  impressions  of  it  the  next  day  to  Tom  as 
follows: 

"I  had  an  easy  climb  among  the  streams,  about  the 
fragments  of  Rocks,  and  should  have  got  I  think  to  the 
summit,  but  unfortunately  I  was  damped  by  slipping  one 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          31 

leg  into  a  squashy  hole.  There  is  no  great  body  of  water, 
but  the  accompaniment  is  delightful;  for  it  oozes  out  of  a 
cleft  in  perpendicular  Rocks,  all  fledged  with  ash  and  other 
beautiful  trees.  It  is  a  strange  thing  how  they  got  there. 
At  the  South  end  of  the  Lake  the  Mountains  of  Borrow- 
dale  are  perhaps  as  fine  as  anything  we  have  seen." 

Keats,  it  will  be  observed,  mentions  no  tree  specifically 
but  the  ash.  It  will  be  remembered  how,  two  years  before, 
he  had  been  intrigued  by  the  thought  of  a  mountain  ash.1 
Here,  then,  he  saw  ash-trees  and  took  keen  note  of  the  fact, 
probably  harking  back  in  his  mind,  as  we  are  doing,  to  his 
early  preoccupation  with  the  species. 

After  dinner,  Brown  and  Keats  fagged  up  hill  (the 
expression  is  Keats's)  to  the  old  Druid  remains  on  the  road 
to  Penrith,  which  gave  Keats  much  pleasure.  These  two 
scenes,  the  tree-clustered  mountains  over  Lodore,  and  the 
broken  circle  of  Druidical  stones,  were  afterwards  utilized 
by  Keats  in  the  Ode  to  Psyche  and  Hyperion.  Brown's 
account  of  the  day  is  far  fuller  and  more  florid  than  Keats's 
and,  in  considering  this,  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  makes  a  very 
true  observation.  Since  I  can  in  no  wise  better  what  he 
says,  I  will  quote  the  passage  somewhat  abridged: 

2  "  Keats  in  his  own  letters  says  comparatively  little  about 
the  scenery,  and  that  quite  simply  and  quietly,  not  at  all 
with  the  descriptive  enthusiasm  of  the  picturesque  tourist 
.  . .  Partly,  no  doubt,  a  certain  instinctive  reticence  .  .  . 
keeps  him  from  fluent  words  on  the  beauties  that  most 
deeply  moved  him:  his  way  rather  is  to  let  them  work 
silently  in  his  being  until  at  the  right  moment,  if  the  right 
moment  comes,  their  essence  and  vital  power  shall  distil 
themselves  for  him  into  a  phrase  of  poetry.  Partly,  also, 
the  truth  is  that  an  intensely  active,  intuitive  genius  for 
nature  like  his  hardly  needs  the  stimulus  of  nature's 
beauties  for  long  or  at  their  highest  power,  but  on  a 
minimum  of  experience  can  summon  up  and  multiply  for 
itself  spirit  sunsets,  and  glories  of  dream  lake  and  moun- 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  217.  *  Life  of  John  Keats,  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin. 


32  JOHN  KEATS 

tain,  richer  and  more  varied  than  the  mere  receptive  lover 
of  scenery  can  witness  and  register  in  memory  during  a 
lifetime  of  travel  and  pursuit." 

I  am  very  grateful  to  Sir  Sidney  for  that  passage,  it 
contains  a  profound  truth  not  at  all  understood  by  the 
generality  of  men.  Keats's  mind  and  observation  worked 
with  lightning-like  rapidity.  The  impression  was  received, 
registered,  and  done  with,  in  an  instant's  time.  Another 
point  to  be  made  is  that  Keats  belonged  among  the  few 
who  can  receive  almost  as  vivid  impressions  of  scenery 
from  verbal  descriptions  as  they  can  from  actual  scenes.  A 
hint  to  go  upon  and  he  could  actually  see  whatever  the 
author  he  happened  to  be  reading  had  seen.  There  had  to 
be  a  hint  —  I  doubt  if  anybody  could  imagine  the  sea  who 
had  never  beheld  it  in  actual  fact;  but  having  seen  the  sea 
anywhere,  he  could  imagine  it  everywhere.  Mountains, 
Keats  had  never  seen,  hence  his  exclamation  on  the  road  to 
Bowness:  "How  can  I  believe  in  that  ? ";  on  the  other  hand, 
I  think  the  ash-trees  at  Lodore  appeared  positively  familiar. 

The  two  young  fellows  were  very  tired  that  night,  yet 
their  eagerness  pulled  them  out  of  bed  at  four  the  next 
morning  to  go  up  Skiddaw.  The  day  seemed  propitious, 
and  as  they  had  every  hope  of  finding  themselves  at  the  top 
in  sunshine,  they  set  out  with  a  guide.  Here  again  I  shall 
let  Keats  tell  the  story  of  the  climb  as  he  did  to  Tom  in  the 
letter  I  have  already  quoted: 

"It  promised  all  along  to  be  fair,  and  we  fagged  and 
tugged  nearly  to  the  top,  when,  at  half-past  six,  there  came 
a  Mist  upon  us,  and  shut  out  the  view.  We  did  not,  how- 
ever, lose  anything  by  it:  we  were  high  enough  without 
mist  to  see  the  coast  of  Scotland  —  the  Irish  Sea  —  the 
hills  beyond  Lancaster  —  and  nearly  all  the  large  ones  of 
Cumberland  and  Westmoreland,  particularly  Helvellyn 
and  Scawfell.  It  grew  colder  and  colder  as  we  ascended, 
and  we  were  glad,  at  about  three  parts  of  the  way,  to  taste 
a  little  rum  which  the  Guide  brought  with  him,  mixed, 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          33 

mind  ye,  with  Mountain  water.  I  took  two  glasses  going 
and  one  returning.  It  is  about  six  miles  from  where  I  am 
writing  to  the  top.  So  we  have  walked  ten  miles  before 
Breakfast  to-day.  We  went  up  with  two  others,  very  good 
sort  of  fellows.  All  felt,  on  arising  into  the  cold  air,  that 
same  elevation  which  a  cold  bath  gives  one  —  I  felt  as  if  I 
were  going  to  a  Tournament." 

That  last  touch  is  the  very  essence  of  poetry  —  sharp 
bodily  and  mental  sensation  distilled  to  one  perfect,  un- 
expected phrase. 

The  folly  of  a  ten-mile  climb  up  and  down  on  empty 
stomachs  is  evident;  but  our  two  young  men  were  not  wise, 
they  were  merely  enthusiastic.  From  this  time  on,  we  hear 
a  good  deal  about  fatigue  in  Keats's  letters;  Brown  could 
stand  anything,  it  seems.  What  urgent  need  they  had  to 
make  so  much  haste  cannot  be  guessed.  There  was,  so  far 
as  we  can  see,  no  reason  for  all  the  hurry;  but  they  might 
have  been  stung  by  the  famous  tarantula  and  doomed  to 
perpetual  motion  from  the  speed  with  which  they  eternally 
went  on.  On  this  occasion  they  do  seem  to  have  remained 
at  Keswick  long  enough  to  eat  their  breakfasts,  and  for 
Keats  to  write  part  of  his  letter  to  Tom,  but  in  the  after- 
noon they  pushed  on  past  Bassenthwaite  Water  to  Ireby, 
where  they  came  to  a  halt  for  the  night. 

At  the  inn  at  Ireby  they  found  a  dancing-school  in  full 
swing.  A  lot  of  lusty  young  peasants  were  romping  about 
under  the  guidance  of  an  itinerant  dancing-master. 
Keats  says:  "  they  kickit  and  jumpit  with  metal  extraordi- 
nary, and  whiskit,  and  friskit,  and  toed  it,  and  go'd  it,  and 
twirl'd  it,  and  whirl'd  it,  and  stamped  it,  and  sweated  it, 
tattooing  the  floor  like  mad."  Keats  delighted  in  it,  this 
was  something  new.  And  these  were  people;  the  human 
nature  belonging  to  the  place,  engaged  in  an  activity  which 
had  nothing  to  do  with  the  travellers.  They  were  people 
spied  on  in  the  intimacy  of  pastime,  and  this  was  an  experi- 
ence which  had  been  decidedly  lacking  to  the  trip  so  far. 


34  JOHN  KEATS 

Such  local  colouring  was  just  what  his  mood  needed.  He 
was  intelligent  enough  to  wish  to  see  more  of  a  country 
than  its  scenery.  Here  is  a  significant  passage,  once  more 
to  Tom : 

"There  was  as  fine  a  row  of  boys  and  girls  as  you  ever 
saw;  some  beautiful  faces,  one  exquisite  mouth.  I  never 
felt  so  near  the  glory  of  Patriotism,  the  glory  of  making  by 
any  means  a  country  happier.  This  is  what  I  like  better 
than  scenery.  I  fear  our  continued  moving  from  place  to 
place  will  prevent  our  becoming  learned  in  village  affairs: 
we  are  creatures  of  Rivers,  Lakes,  and  Mountains." 

Keats  had  "got"  the  country,  he  needed  no  more  of 
it;  but  he  very  much  wanted  to  "get"  the  people.  Still, 
of  course,  there  was  no  time.  Through  Wigton  to  Carlisle 
they  proceeded  next  day,  and  found  that  town,  when  they 
reached  it,  a  very  dull  place.  "The  whole  art  of  yawning 
might  have  been  learned  there,"  Brown  declares.  Most 
dutifully,  however,  they  saw  all  there  was  to  be  seen,  which 
did  not  impress  them.  Keats  says:  "The  Cathedral  does 
not  appear  very  fine  —  the  Castle  is  very  ancient,  and  of 
brick  ...  I  will  tell  you  anon  whether  the  inside  of  the 
cathedral  is  worth  looking  at."  Apparently  it  was  not,  for 
no  farther  information  on  the  subject  is  vouchsafed  Tom, 
who  is  told  instead:  "We  have  now  walked  114  miles,  and 
are  merely  a  little  tired  in  the  thighs  and  a  little  blistered." 
In  view  of  the  blisters,  we  can  suppose  that  it  was  no  un- 
welcome news  to  be  told  that  there  was  nothing  much  to 
see  between  Carlisle  and  Dumfries  and  they  had  better 
coach  the  thirty-eight  miles  between  the  two  towns.  This 
they  accordingly  did,  and  fairly  crossed  the  border  into 
Scotland  on  Wednesday,  July  first.  Keats  liked  the 
country  they  passed  through  on  the  way  not  at  all.  His 
description  of  it  is  curiously  effective  and  vivid.  "I  know 
not  how  it  is,"  he  writes, "  the  Clouds,  the  Sky,  the  Houses, 
all  seem  anti-Grecian  and  anti-Charlemagnish."  This  is 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          35 

pure  reaction,  but  it  is  also  a  reversion  to  type.  Keats 
loved  the  idea  of  Southern  lands,  sunny,  bright-coloured, 
gay;  he  also  loved  the  age  of  chivalry,  with  knights  pacing 
through  lonely  forests,  and  grim  castles  perched  on  crags 
whose  battlemented  walls  shone  crimson  in  the  sunset, 
whence  the  glare  of  torches  by  night  cheered  the  wayfarer 
in  the  valley  below.  The  Scottish  border  offered  only  low 
hills  and  flat  stretches,  and  a  sort  of  nostalgia  for  his  old 
worlds  of  romance  beset  him  as  he  travelled  through  it. 
Brown  tells  us  that  they  left  "the  wonders  of  Cumberland 
and  Westmoreland  .  . .  without  a  touch  of  regret."  In 
Keats's  case,  the  wonder  had  been  worn  bare,  and  his  very 
fatigue  called  up  his  old,  enchanting  visions  with  a  kind  of 
mockery  as  though  to  tell  him  that  no  matter  what  he 
might  see,  and  do,  and  admire,  at  bottom  he  was  always 
irretrievably  himself. 

Reaching  Dumfries  in  time  for  dinner,  they  sallied  out  in 
the  afternoon  to  see  Burns's  tomb.  That,  and  his  feelings 
of  the  morning,  gave  Keats  a  sonnet.  It  is  not  a  little  inter- 
esting and  important  to  find  that  this  sonnet,  On  Visiting 
the  Tomb  of  Burns,  is  in  the  Petrarchan  form.  Psycho- 
logically, we  instantly  see  why.  The  South  and  chivalry 
were  his  early  loves.  Coming  back  to  them  as  a  tired  child 
to  his  mother,  he  comes  back  to  the  sonnet  form  in  which 
he  had  been  accustomed  to  write  until  a  few  months  before. 
Critics  have  pondered  much  upon  this  unexpected  return 
to  the  Petrarchan  mode.  But  does  not  the  reason  lie 
embedded  in  the  passage  in  his  letter  from  Dumfries  to 
Tom  in  which  he  copies  this  sonnet?  And,  after  all,  what  is 
the  sonnet  but  an  expression  of  his  spleen. 

On  Thursday,  the  travellers  visited  the  ruins  of  Lin- 
cluden  College  in  the  morning,  and  after  that  fate  called  a 
short  halt.  Keats's  coat  had  sprung  a  leak  in  the  seams 
from  the  rubbing  of  his  knapsack  and  repairs  were  instantly 
necessary,  for,  as  Keats  wrote  to  his  sister  Fanny,  "I  have 
but  one  Coat  to  my  back  in  these  parts."  So  off  the  coat 


36  JOHN  KEATS 

went  to  the  tailor's,  and  by  the  time  it  was  returned  "  forti- 
fied at  all  points"  it  was  too  late  to  think  of  reaching  Kirk- 
cudbright that  night.  They  therefore  went  no  farther  than 
the  village  of  Dalbeattie. 

For  some  unknown  reason,  it  was  the  habit  of  this 
tarantula-bitten  pair  not  to  breakfast  where  they  had 
passed  the  night,  probably  because  their  very  early  starts 
made  the  getting  of  breakfast  a  difficulty  only  to  be  over- 
come by  extra  payments,  which  they  were  loath  to  make. 
On  Friday,  therefore,  they  decided  to  breakfast  at  Auchen- 
cairn,  a  village  eight  miles  from  Dalbeattie.  The  way 
thither  was  particularly  pleasant,  with  continuous  views  of 
mountains  and  sea,  and  this  eight  mile  walk  was  a  fortui- 
tous one  for  Keats.  Brown's  account1  of  it  contains  this 
interesting  passage: 

"  For  the  most  part,  our  track  lay  through  corn-fields,  or 
skirting  small  forests.  I  chatted  half  the  way  about  Guy 
Mannering,  for  it  happened  that  Keats  had  not  then  read 
that  novel,  and  I  enjoyed  the  recollection  of  the  events  as  I 
described  them  in  their  own  scenes.  There  was  a  little  spot, 
close  to  our  pathway,  where,  without  a  shadow  of  a  doubt, 
old  Meg  Merrilies  had  often  boiled  her  kettle,  and,  haply 
cooked  a  chicken.  It  was  among  fragments  of  rock,  and 
brambles,  and  broom,  and  most  tastefully  ornamented 
with  profusion  of  honeysuckle,  wild  roses  and  fox-glove,  all 
in  the  very  blush  and  fulness  of  blossom." 

Keats  had  little  interest  in  Scott's  novels,  we  have  seen 
how  he  felt  about  the  Antiquary?  and  it  is  characteristic  of 
him  that,  of  all  Brown  told  him,  what  really  made  an  im- 
pression was  the  character  and  appearance  of  Meg  Merrilies, 
the  gypsy.  The  type  of  landscape  drove  her  in  upon  him, 
as  it  were.  He  could  not  escape  her.  After  breakfast  at 
Auchencairn,  as  he  and  Brown  occupied  a  brief  rest  in 
writing  letters,  suddenly  Brown's  attention  was  caught  by 
the  fact  that  the  lines  of  Keats's  letter  were  not  running  in 

1  See  Note,  Vol.  II,  p.  17.  *  See  Vol.  I,  p.  507. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          37 

regular  prose,  and  on  Brown's  asking  what  he  was  doing, 
Keats  told  him  that  he  was  writing  a  ballad  about  Meg 
Merrilies  for  Fanny.  Brown  immediately  demanded  it  to 
copy  into  his  journal.  This  Keats  permitted,  at  the  same 
time  protesting  that  the  poem  was  "  too  much  a  trifle  to  be 
copied."  *  He  copied  it  himself,  however,  in  a  letter  which 
he  then  and  there  began  to  Tom. 

It  is  faint  praise  to  say  that  this  ballad  is  far  and  away 
the  best  thing  that  Keats  did  during  his  Scotch  tour.  It  is 
much  more  than  this,  being  indeed,  to  my  thinking,  one  of 
his  very  best  poems.  It  stands  unique  in  his  work.  Neither 
before  nor  after  is  there  any  such  attempt  at  ballad  form, 
nor  any  such  lyrico-dramatic  presentation  of  a  character. 
It  ranks  with  La  Belle  'Dame  Sans  Merci  as  the  sole  example 
of  a  type  of  poetry  which  Keats  would  assuredly  have  tried 
his  hand  at  again  and  again  had  he  lived.  These  two  pieces, 
entirely  diverse  in  genre  though  they  are,  do,  in  fact,  seem 
to  prove  that  Keats  was  not  only  not  written  out  at  the 
time  of  his  death,  but  that  he  had  already  found,  and 
slightly  practiced,  two  utterly  different,  but  for  him 
perfectly  new,  ways  in  which  to  write.  They  are  evidences 
of  the  diversity  and  richness  of  his  genius,  and  of  his  passion 
for  experiment  and  the  breaking  out  of  untrodden  paths. 
The  ballad  form  is  as  old  as  the  hills,  but  it  was  new  to 
Keats,  and  this  ballad  is  not  really  in  an  old  mode.  Pro- 
sodically,  it  follows  the  rules;  psychologically,  it  is  as  fresh 
as  the  Ancient  Mariner ',  and  that  was  saying  much  in  1818. 
It  is  what  we  may  call  up-to-date,  considering  the  period; 
while  La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci  is  more  than  this,  for  it 
is  the  essence  and  precursor  of  the  whole  pre-Raphaelite 
school. 

Friday  night  saw  Keats  and  Brown  at  Kirkcudbright, 
from  which  place  Keats  wrote  into  his  letter  of  the  morning 
to  Fanny  the  nonsense  verses  There  was  a  naughty  Boy. 
Part  of  these  verses  I  have  already  quoted.2  On  Saturday, 

1From  Brown's  published  account.  See  Note,  Vol.  II,  p.  17. 
•  See  Vol.  I,  p.  35- 


38  JOHN  KEATS 

July  fourth,  they  seem  to  have  gone  as  far  as  Newton 
Stewart,  and  from  thence,  on  Sunday,  the  fifth,  to  Glen- 
luce.  Here  let  me  say  that  it  is  a  little  difficult  to  apportion 
the  days  correctly  during  this  part  of  the  trip.  Brown  in 
his  published  account  makes  no  divisions,  and  the  dates 
of  Keats's  letters  are  extremely  hard  to  follow,  since  he 
frequently  goes  on  from  one  day  to  another,  not  only  with- 
out changing  the  date,  but  without  beginning  a  new  para- 
graph. If  Keats's  date 1  in  a  letter  to  Tom  can  be  taken  as 
evidence,  they  left  Glenluce  on  Monday,  July  sixth,  en 
route  for  Stranraer,  "going  round  to  see  some  rivers:  they 
were  scarcely  worth  while."  Having  seen  the  rivers  and 
been  disappointed  in  them,  they  were  proceeding  on  their 
way  in  a  burning  sun,  "when"  says  Keats,  "the  Mail  over- 
took us:  we  got  up,  and  were  at  Port  Patrick  in  a  jiffey." 
At  Port  Patrick  they  crossed  immediately  in  the  packet  to 
Donaghadee.  From  an  old  diary  of  my  grandfather's,  who 
took  somewhat  the  same  trip  as  Keats  a  year  later,  in  1 819, 
I  learn  that  the  crossing  was  accomplished  in  four  hours. 
But  that  was  on  a  rough  day.  How  long  it  took  Keats,  we 
have  no  means  of  knowing,  but  the  passage  was  made 
pleasant  to  him  by  hearing  two  old  men  sing  ballads. 
At  Donaghadee,  they  stopped  for  the  night,  and  were 
gratified  to  hear  that  the  Giant's  Causeway,  to  see  which 
they  had  come  to  Ireland,  was  only  forty-eight  miles 
distant;  they  had  feared  it  seventy. 

At  first  glance,  there  seemed  to  be  considerable  to  be  said 
in  favour  of  Ireland  over  Scotland.  Keats's  opinion  on  the 
subject,  sent  to  Tom,  is  interesting  and,  although  ad- 
mittedly superficial,  contains  more  than  a  grain  of  truth: 

2  "I  can  perceive  a  great  difference  in  the  nations,  from 

1  In  the  letter  as  published,  the  date  of  writing  is  given  as  July  sixth; 
but  in  the  holograph  in  the  possession  of  James  Freeman  Clarke,  Esq.  of 
Boston,  it  is  very  clearly  written  "July  7."  Immediately  after  this  date, 
Keats  says:  "Yesterday  morning  we  set  out  from  Glen  Luce." 

1  Copied  from  the  original  letter  in  the  possession  of  James  Freeman 
Clarke,  Esq.  of  Boston,  Mass,  to  whose  grandfather  it  was  given  by  George 
Keats. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          39 

the  chambermaid  at  this  nate  tun  kept  by  Mr.  Kelley.  She 
is  fair,  kind,  and  ready  to  laugh,  because  she  is  out  of  the 
horrible  dominion  of  the  Scotch  Kirk.  A  Scotch  girl  stands 
in  terrible  awe  of  the  Elders  —  poor  little  Susannah's,  they 
will  scarcely  laugh,  they  are  greatly  to  be  pitied,  and  the 
Kirk  is  greatly  to  be  damned.  These  Kirk-men  have  done 
Scotland  good.1  They  have  made  old  men,  young  men ;  old 
women,  young  women ;  boys,  girls  and  infants  all  careful  — 
so  they  are  formed  into  regular  Phalanges  of  savers  and 
gainers.  Such  a  thrifty  army  cannot  fail  to  enrich  their 
Country,  and  give  it  a  greater  appearance  of  Comfort  than 
that  of  their  poor  Irish  neighbours.  These  Kirk-men  have 
done  Scotland  harm;  they  have  banished  puns,  and  laugh- 
ing, and  kissing,  &c.  (except  in  cases  where  the  very 
danger  and  crime  must  make  it  very  fine  and  gustful.)  I 
shall  make  a  full  stop  at  kissing,  for  after  that  there  should 
be  a  better  parenthesis,  and  go  on  to  remind  you  of  the 
fate  of  Burns  —  poor  unfortunate  fellow,  his  disposition 
was  Southern  —  how  sad  it  is  when  a  luxurious  imagination 
is  obliged,  in  self-defence,  to  deaden  its  delicacy  in  vulgarity 
and  riot  in  things  attainable,  that  it  may  not  have  leisure 
to  go  mad  after  things  that  are  not.  No  man,  in  such 
matters,  will  be  content  with  the  experience  of  others.  It 
is  true  that  but  of  sufferance  there  is  no  greatness,  no 
dignity,  that  in  the  most  abstracted  pleasure  there  is  no 
lasting  happiness.  Yet  who  would  not  like  to  discover  over 
again  that  Cleopatra  was  a  Gipsy,  Helen  a  rogue,  and 
Ruth  a  deep  one?  .  .  .  We  live  in  a  barbarous  age  —  I 
would  sooner  be  a  wild  deer,  than  a  girl  under  the  do- 
minion of  the  Kirk;  and  I  would  sooner  be  a  wild  hog,  than 
be  the  occasion  of  a  poor  Creature's  penance  before  those 
execrable  elders.1' 

The  theory  of  the  baneful  effect  of  inhibitions  had  not 
been  heard  of  when  Keats  wrote  that  passage,  and  yet  how 
clearly  and  succinctly  he  has  summed  it  up!  His  under- 
standing of  Burns's  case  is,  considering  the  period,  simply 
extraordinary.  Nowhere  better  than  in  this  passage  do  we 

1  So  in  the  original;  probably  Keats  omitted  "  no  "  by  mistake,  or  else 
intended  to  put  a  question  mark  at  the  end  of  the  sentence. 


40  JOHN  KEATS 

have  an  insight  into  Keats's  essentially  modern  mind. 
People  before  Keats's  day  had  advocated  lust  and  license, 
but  who  else  at  the  time  had  indicated  any  possibly  valid 
reasons  for  them.  In  those  days,  lust  was  lust  and  license 
license;  who  advocated  them  did  so  because  he  was  willing 
to  snap  his  fingers  at  the  devil  and  make  hay  while  the  sun 
shone.  But  Keats,  while  not  advocating,  condones  with  a 
reason,  a  pitiful  reason  which  our  age  alone  has  ever  com- 
prehended. 

The  next  day,  Tuesday,  the  travellers  set  out  for  Belfast, 
a  twenty-two  mile  walk,  during  which  Keats  saw  enough  of 
the  state  of  the  country  to  disillusion  him  not  a  little.  He 
was  struck  with  the  "  worse  than  nakedness,  the  rags,  the 
dirt  and  misery  of  the  poor  common  Irish."  "A  Scotch 
cottage,"  he  exclaims,  "is  a  palace  to  an  Irish  one."  The 
young  men  floundered  through  a  Peat-bog  "three  miles 
long  at  least  —  dreary,  black,  dank,  flat  and  spongy"  and 
saw  "poor  dirty  Creatures  and  a  few  strong  men  cutting  or 
carting  peat."  And  he  cries  "What  a  tremendous  difficulty 
is  the  improvement  of  the  condition  of  such  people.  I  can- 
not conceive  how  a  mind  'with  child'  of  philanthropy  could 
grasp  at  [the]  possibility." 

At  Belfast,  Keats  and  Brown  discovered  that  the  forty- 
eight  miles  were  Irish  ones,  equalling  seventy  English 
miles,  and  this  capped  the  climax  of  their  disgust.  They 
also  found  that  prices  at  Irish  inns  were  about  three 
times  those  of  Scotland.  All  this  was  too  much,  and  back 
they  footed  it  next  day  to  Donaghadee.  On  their  return 
walk,  they  encountered  an  old  hag  smoking  a  pipe,  being 
carried  along  in  what  Keats  calls  "the  worst  dog-kennel 
you  ever  saw"  by  a  couple  of  ragged  girls.  Keats,  who 
observed  everything,  describes  her  as  "looking  out  with  a 
round-eyed,  skinny-lidded  inanity;  with  a  sort  of  horizontal 
idiotic  movement  of  the  head." 

Reaching  Donaghadee,  they  took  the  daily  packet  for 
Port  Patrick,  and  there  passed  the  night  of  Wednesday, 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          4i 

July  eighth.  Keats,  who  had  been  disappointed  in  receiv- 
ing no  letters  on  his  arrival  at  Port  Patrick  two  days  before, 
repaired  to  the  Post  Office  again,  and  we  can  imagine  his 
feelings  —  he  who  hated  soldiers  —  when  the  postmaster 
snapped  out  "What  regiment?" 

The  two  friends,  not  too  well  pleased  with  their  experi- 
ences, left  Port  Patrick,  it  would  seem,  on  July  ninth,  and 
repaired  to  Stranraer,  and  from  thence  to  Cairn  and 
Ballantrae.  The  road  from  Cairn  gave  them  much 
pleasure,  and  both  Keats  and  Brown  wax  eloquent  about 
it.  Finally,  on  climbing  up  a  considerable  ascent,  they 
caught  sight  of  Ailsa  Rock  fifteen  miles  out  to  sea.  This 
great  mass  of  stone,  heaved  up  out  of  the  waves  to  a  grim 
and  solitary  grandeur,  greatly  moved  Keats.  He  tells  Tom : 

"The  effect  of  Ailsa  with  the  peculiar  perspective  of  the 
Sea  in  connection  with  the  ground  we  stood  on,  and  the 
misty  rain  then  falling  gave  me  a  complete  Idea  of  a 
deluge.  Ailsa  struck  me  very  suddenly  —  really  I  was  a 
little  alarmed." 

The  first  sentence  of  that  passage  is  excessively  interesting, 
for  Keats  sees  with  the  vision  of  a  painter,  but  of  no  painter 
of  his  time.  It  is  no  early  nineteenth  century  European 
picture  that  he  gives  us  here,  but  a  Japanese  colour  print. 
Even  the  suggestion  of  perspective  does  not  mar  the  effect, 
which  is,  I  think,  given  by  his  speaking  of  the  misty  rain 
falling  between  him  and  the  Rock  and  sea.  In  colour  and 
form  the  scene  is  absolutely  Japanese.  Any  one  who  is 
familiar  with  Hiroshige's  Night  Rain  at  Karaski,  one  of  the 
Eight  Views  of  Lake  Biwa,  with  its  veil  of  dropping  rain  half 
obscuring  a  gigantic  pine-tree,  will  understand  what  I 
mean.  Keats,  of  course,  was  totally  ignorant  of  Japanese 
art.  For  three  hundred  years,  Japan  had  been  sealed  to  all 
foreigners  except  a  few  Portuguese  traders,  and  even  these 
were  allowed  no  farther  than  an  island  off  Nagasaki.  Yet 
that  John  Keats  saw  landscape  from  the  same  angle  as  the 


42  JOHN  KEATS 

great  masters  of  Ukio-ye,  a  close  student  of  his  letters  can- 
not fail  to  be  aware. 

Toward  the  end  of  the  day,  the  misty  rain  turned  into  a 
regular  downpour,  and  the  soaked  couple  hurried  down  to 
Ballantrae  extremely  eager  for  food  and  shelter.  The  land- 
lord of  the  inn  at  Stranraer,  where  they  seem  to  have 
breakfasted,  had  told  them  "not  to  go  to  the  Post  Chaise 
inn,  as  things  might  not  be  quite  comfortable  there,  be- 
cause the  landlord  was  a  little  in  trouble."   "A  little  in 
trouble!"  exclaims  the  irate  Brown,  "he  had  been  just 
taken  up  for  being  concerned  in  robbing  the  Paisley  bank." 
The  inn  they  were  forced  to  go  to  in  consequence  was  very 
poor,  and  the  wind  blowing  up  a  gale  soon  turned  the  rain 
into  a  violent  storm.   During  the  evening,  Keats  wrote  a 
decidedly  clever  attempt  at  a  Scotch  ballad  in  dialect,  be- 
cause Brown  wanted  to  fool  the  antiquary  Dilke  by  send- 
ing it  to  him  as  a  bona  fide  Galloway  song.   The  subject 
Keats  took  from  a  wedding  party  they  had  encountered  on 
the  road.   The  ballad  is,  as  I  say,  a  clever  imitation,  yet 
Keats  was  right  in  observing  "  but  it  won't  do."  This  sort 
of  thing  was  not  his  business,  and  a  tyro  could  have 
spotted  it  at  once,  for  all  its  ingenuity,  as  not  done  by  a 
Scotchman.   Meanwhile  the  storm  was  increasing  in  fury 
minute  by  minute.  All  night  the  miserable  little  building 
in  which  they  were,  shook,  and  squeaked,  and  groaned, 
clapping  its  windows  and  rattling  its  doors,  with  the  result 
that  neither  Keats  nor  Brown  got  a  wink  of  sleep.  It  was 
rather  a  bedraggled  pair,  therefore,  who  set  forth  next  day 
to  walk  the  thirteen  miles  to  Girvan.  But  the  rain  at  least 
had  stopped,  and  at  Girvan  they  found,  says  Keats  with 
appreciation,  "comfortable  quarters." 

Their  usual  day's  mileage  was  about  twenty  miles,  but 
the  good  inn  at  Girvan  tempted  them  to  fare  no  farther 
that  day.  Instead,  Keats  wrote  a  sonnet  on  Ailsa  Rock. 
There  seems  to  have  been  something  about  this  part  of 
Scotland  which  made  it,  to  Keats's  thinking,  unsympa- 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          43 

thetic  to  the  Shakespearian  form  of  sonnet.  Of  course, 
there  is  no  reason  why  a  poet  should  not  write  in  both 
the  Petrarchan  and  Shakespearian  modes,  using  either 
at  will.  In  Keats's  case,  he  seems  to  have  employed 
them  during  this  Summer  almost  at  haphazard.  If  any 
clue  can  be  found,  it  appears  to  lie  in  the  associations  which 
the  two  forms  carried  with  them,  rather  than  in  any  sense 
of  fitness  in  the  subjects  themselves.  It  is,  perhaps,  push- 
ing possibilities  somewhat  far  to  suggest  that  the  sonnet  To 
my  Brother  George,  written  at  Margate  in  1816,  and  the 
sonnet  On  the  Sea,  written  at  Carisbrooke  in  1817,  have  a 
certain  thematic  connection  with  Aiha  Rock.  This  is  a 
point  to  be  glanced  at  merely,  nothing  more. 

Keats  calls  To  Aiha  Rock  "  the  only  Sonnet  of  any  worth 
I  have  of  late  written."  It  does,  in  fact,  come  near  to  being 
a  very  fine  sonnet,  but  the  confusion  and  obscure  phrasing 
of  the  octave  prevent  the  general  effect  from  being  what  it 
should  be.  The  sestet  contains  the  proud  lines: 

". .  .  thou  art  dead  asleep; 

Thy  life  is  but  two  dead  eternities  — 
The  last  in  air,  the  former  in  the  deep; 

First  with  the  whales,  last  with  eagle-skies — " 

The  final  two  lines,  however  (which  I  do  not  quote),  are 
weak  and  inadequate,  and  drop  the  tone  once  more. 

Saturday  morning  was  begun  with  the  usual  trudge  to 
breakfast,  this  time  of  eight  miles  to  Kirkoswald.  In  the 
short  rest  which  the  travellers  always  seem  to  have  allowed 
themselves  after  breakfast,  Keats  continued  his  letter  to 
Tom  begun  at  Ballantrae,and  again  his  theme  is  the  differ- 
ence between  the  Scotch  and  Irish  characters;  it  is  amusing 
here  to  see  that  Keats  was  so  thorough-going  an  English- 
man as  to  experience  considerable  difficulty  in  understand- 
ing the  Irish,  although  at  the  same  time  noting  with  much 
shrewdness  certain  of  their  prominent  traits.  He  is  careful 
to  say  that  he  is  speaking  of  the  common  people  only,  as 


44  JOHN  KEATS 

he  knows  nothing  of  the  higher  classes.  His  analysis,  which 
I  give  entire,  is: 

"As  to  the  Trofanum  vulgus'  I  must  incline  to  the 
Scotch.    They  never  laugh  —  but  they  are  always  com- 
paratively neat  and  clean.  Their  constitutions  are  not  so 
remote  and  puzzling  as  the  Irish.  The  Scotchman  will  never 
give  a  decision  on  any  point  —  he  will  never  commit  him- 
self in  a  sentence  which  may  be  referred  to  as  a  meridian  in 
his  notion  of  things  —  so  that  you  do  not  know  him  —  and 
yet  you  may  come  in  nigher  neighbourhood  to  him  than  to 
the  Irishman  who  commits  himself  in  so  many  places  that 
it  dazes  your  head.  A  Scotchman's  motive  is  more  easily 
discovered  than  an  Irishman's.  A  Scotchman  will  go  wisely 
about  to  deceive  you,  an  Irishman  cunningly.   An  Irish- 
man would  bluster  out  of  any  discovery  to  his  disad- 
vantage.  A  Scotchman   would   retire  perhaps  without 
much  desire  for  revenge.   An  Irishman  likes  to  be  thought 
a  gallous  fellow.   A  Scotchman  is  contented  with  himself. 
It  seems  to  me  they  are  both  sensible  of  the  Character 
they  hold  in  England  and  act  accordingly  to  Englishmen. 
Thus  the  Scotchman  will  become  over  grave  and  over  de- 
cent and  the  Irishman  over-impetuous.   I  like  a  Scotch- 
man best  because  he  is  less  of  a  bore  —  I  like  the  Irishman 
best  because  he  ought  to  be  more  comfortable.  —  The 
Scotchman  has  made  up  his  Mind  with  himself  in  a  sort 
of  snail  shell  wisdom.  The  Irishman  is  full  of  strongheaded 
instinct.   The  Scotchman  is  farther  in  Humanity  than  the 
Irishman  —  there  he  will  stick  perhaps  when  the  Irishman 
will  be  refined  beyond  him  —  for  the  former  thinks  he 
cannot  be  improved  —  the  latter  will  grasp  at  it  forever, 
place  but  the  good  plain  before  him." 

Scotchman  —  Irishman  —  here  we  have  them  in  most 
excellent  silhouette.  Nobody  who  knows  the  two  races  will 
deny  the  verisimilitude  of  this  portrayal;  but  there  is  a 
third  nationality  which  peeps  out  of  the  background  of  the 
picture  —  that  of  the  Englishman  who  has  drawn  it.  For 
Keats  is  here  perfectly  generic;  if  he  is  indubitably  himself 
in  the  expression  of  his  opinions,  these  same  opinions,  even 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          45 

to  the  being  "puzzled"  and  "dazed"  and  finding  Irish 
repartee  a  bore,  are  conclusively  English.  They  bear  the 
stamp  of  their  origin  for  all  to  see. 

Fearful  of  missing  anything,  our  eager  tourists  stretched 
out  the  four  miles  to  Maybole  by  going  out  of  their  way  to 
see  a  couple  of  ruins,  one  of  them  Crossraguel  Abbey, 
where  Keats  was  struck  with  "a  winding  Staircase  to  the 
top  of  a  little  Watch  Tower."  But  this  was  all  mere 
dalliance  by  the  way,  a  rambling  preliminary  to  the  cottage 
where  Burns  was  born.  For  Keats  was  determined  that 
this  cottage  was  to  be  one  of  his  shrines.  Writing  to  Rey- 
nolds from  Maybole,  he  says: 

41 1  am  approaching  Burns's  cottage  very  fast  . .  .  One  of 
the  pleasantest  means  of  annulling  self  is  approaching  such 
a  shrine  as  the  Cottage  of  Burns  —  we  need  not  think  of 
his  misery  —  that  is  all  gone,  bad  luck  to  it  —  I  shall  look 
upon  it  hereafter  with  unmixed  pleasure  as  I  do  upon  my 
Stratford-on-Avon  day  with  Bailey." 

The  event,  when  it  came,  was  not  quite  the  perfect  and 
thrilling  joy  he  had  expected.  But  the  expectation  was  so 
keen  that  onward  the  friends  went  from  Maybole  to  reach 
Ayr  that  night.  Keats  had  expected  Ayrshire  to  provide 
him  with  no  sensation  other  than  that  received  from 
Burns's  cottage.  In  this  he  was  agreeably  disappointed. 
"O  prejudice! "  he  cries,  having  found  a  kind  of  country  of 
which  he  had  not  dreamed,  "it  was  as  rich  as  Devon." 
The  approach  to  Ayr  he  considered  "extremely  fine  — 
quite  outwent  my  expectations  —  richly  meadowed, 
wooded,  heathed  and  rivuleted  —  with  a  grand  Sea  view 
terminated  by  the  black  Mountains  of  the  isle  of  Annan." 
This  view  set  him  wondering  how  it  was  that  such  a  pro- 
spect "did  not  beckon  Burns  to  some  grand  attempt  at 
Epic."  Here,  for  once,  his  perspicacity  failed  him,  for 
he  should  have  realized  that  Burns  was  not  of  the  epic 
temper. 


46  JOHN  KEATS 

Keats's  description  of  the  entrance  to  Ayr  is  so  vivid 
that  I  will  transcribe  it: 

"We  came  down  upon  everything  suddenly  —  there 
were  on  our  way  the  'bonny  Doon,'  with  the  Brig  that 
Tarn  of  Shanter  crossed,  Kirk  Alloway,  Burns's  Cottage, 
and  the  Brigs  of  Ayr.  First  we  stood  upon  the  Bridge 
across  the  Doon ;  surrounded  by  every  Phantasy  of  green  in 
Tree,  Meadow,  and  Hill,  —  the  stream  of  the  Doon,  as  a 
Farmer  told  us,  is  covered  with  trees '  from  head  to  foot '  — 
you  know  those  beautiful  heaths  so  fresh  against  the 
weather  of  a  summer's  evening  —  there  was  one  stretching 
along  behind  the  trees." 

This  Keats  wrote  to  Reynolds.  In  another  account,  sent 
to  his  brother  Tom,  he  calls  the  Doon  "  the  sweetest  river  I 
ever  saw  —  overhung  with  fine  trees  as  far  as  we  could  see." 
At  last  came  the  Cottage!  The  mystic  shrine  which  was 
to  live  in  his  memory  forever  as  the  generator  of  a  pleasure 
little  short  of  absolute.  Poor  Keats!  He  took  no  note  of 
the  fact  that  to  receive  such  an  impression  as  he  craved,  to 
undergo  the  keen  sensations  for  which  he  was  hungering, 
demands  a  physical  energy  powerful  enough  to  respond  to 
the  given  stimulus.  But  here  he  was,  at  the  end  of  a  long 
day  during  which  he  had  traversed  something  over  twenty- 
one  miles  on  foot.  He  may  not  have  felt  tired,  but  clearly 
he  was,  so  tired  that  his  nerves  were  on  edge,  and  the 
garrulous  old  caretaker  at  the  cottage  —  whose  garrulity, 
by  the  way,  being  in  the  broadest  Scotch,  made  his  gossip 
almost  incomprehensible  —  nearly  drove  him  mad.  This 
old  caretaker  had  known  Burns,  and  his  remarks  might 
have  been  interesting,  but  somehow  Keats  did  not  find 
them  so  in  the  main.  "  Damn  him  and  damn  his  anecdotes 
—  he  was  a  great  bore,"  is  Keats's  harassed  comment. 
So  he  puts  it  to  Tom;  to  Reynolds,  he  is  more  explicit: 

"We  went  to  the  Cottage  and  took  some  Whisky.  I 
wrote  a  sonnet  for  the  mere  sake  of  writing  some  lines 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          47 

under  the  roof  —  they  are  so  bad  I  cannot  transcribe  them. 
The  Man  at  the  Cottage  was  a  great  Bore  with  his  anec- 
dotes —  I  hate  the  rascal  —  his  life  consists  in  fuzz,  fuzzy, 
fuzziest.  He  drinks  glasses  five  for  the  Quarter  and  twelve 
for  the  hour  x  —  he  is  a  mahogany-faced  old  Jackass  who 
knew  Burns.  He  ought  to  have  been  kicked  for  having 
spoken  to  him  ...  O  the  flummery  of  a  birthplace!  Cant! 
cant!  cant!  It  is  enough  to  give  a  spirit  the  guts-ache. 
Many  a  true  word,  they  say,  is  spoken  in  jest  —  this  may 
be  because  his  gab  hindered  my  sublimity:  the  flat  dog 
made  me  write  a  flat  sonnet/' 

A  watched  pot  never  boils,  and  forced  poetry  usually 
does  no  more  than  crawl  along  the  ground  of  prose  on  its 
belly.  It  was  foolishness  extraordinary  to  set  his  fagged 
brain  to  work  composing  poetry  when  he  was  in  no  mood 
for  it.  But  we  have  already  noticed2  his  constant  desire 
to  write  in  places  whose  associations  intrigued  him.  He 
was  under  no  illusion  as  to  the  merit  of  his  sonnet,  as  this 
passage  shows,  and  he  says  the  same  thing  to  Tom:  "I  was 
determined  to  write  a  sonnet  in  the  Cottage  —  and  I  did  — 
but  it  was  so  bad  I  cannot  venture  it  here."  Before  a  week 
was  over,  he  had  torn  it  up,  but  not  before  Brown  had 
copied  it,  a  fact  which  he  seems  not  to  have  known. 

Considering  the  connection  in  his  mind  between  Burns's 
cottage,  and  Shakespeare's  house  at  Strat  ford-on- A  von, 
it  is  not  strange  to  find  that  this  sonnet  is  written  in  the 
Shakespearian  form.  Rossetti  thought  the  sonnet  "a  fine 
thing,"  and  Lord  Hough  ton  was  of  the  opinion  that  "The 
local  colour  is  strong  in  it ...  and  its  geniality  would  have 
delighted  the  object  of  its  admiration."  I  find  it  none  of 
these  things,  but  on  the  contrary  laboured  and  impatient; 
indeed  I  think  one  of  its  lines: 

"  Fancy  is  dead  and  drunken  at  its  goal " 
aptly  describes  it.   But  what  really  upset  Keats  about  it 

1  Misquoted  from  Coleridge's  Christabel.  J  See  Vol.  I,  p.  552- 


48  JOHN  KEATS 

was  that  he  intended  it  to  be,  not  full  of  local  colour,  not 
reminiscent  of  "Willie  brewed  a  peck  o'  mau't,"  but  a 
tribute  to  those  sides  of  Burns  which  transcended  his  mor- 
tal frailties,  and  from  this  point  of  view  the  sonnet  is  a 
dead  failure. 

The  next  two  days  were  spent  in  getting  to  Glasgow. 
The  journey  seems  to  have  been  broken  at  Kilmarnock, 
for  Keats  tells  Reynolds  that  the  rain  has  stopped  them  at 
the  end  of  a  dozen  miles,  and  on  Monday,  July  thirteenth, 
he  writes  from  Kingswell  to  Tom.  Kingswell  is  nine  miles 
beyond  Kilmarnock  by  the  old  coach  road,  and  the  way- 
farers probably  stopped  there  for  breakfast  or  dinner,  as 
they  were  certainly  in  Glasgow  that  night,  which  was 
twelve  miles  farther  on.  In  tracing  Keats's  route  and  the 
things  he  did  in  Scotland,  it  is  important  to  remember  that 
meal-times  were  divided  very  differently  in  1818  from 
what  they  are  now.  Keats  and  Brown  seem  to  have  started 
the  day  at  about  five  in  the  morning,  as  we  have  seen, 
breakfastless.  The  ordinary  breakfast  hour  of  the  period 
was  about  nine  A.M.,  dinner  was  partaken  of  at  three  or 
four,  and  a  third  meal,  which  Keats  usually  calls  "  tea,"  but 
which  most  of  the  world  called  "supper,"  came  along  quite 
late,  generally  at  nine  in  the  evening.  The  long  Summer 
days  in  a  latitude  so  far  North  as  Scotland  meant  that  it 
was  light  until  far  into  the  evening,  even  in  London  in 
July  twilight  does  not  end  until  eleven  P.M.  On  Monday, 
July  thirteenth,  1818,  the  sun  did  not  set  until  after  eight 
o'clock.  It  was  probably,  therefore,  in  full  daylight  that 
Brown  and  Keats  "  entered  Glasgow  last  evening  under  the 
most  impressive  Stare  a  body  could  feel."  This  was  written 
on  July  fourteenth,  so  we  know  that  Glasgow  was  reached 
on  Monday,  the  thirteenth. 

The  two  dusty  young  fellows,  with  their  obvious  air  of 
having  walked  long  and  far,  seem  to  have  greatly  intrigued 
those  Glaswegians  who  happened  to  encounter  them  that 
evening.  Keats  says:  "When  we  had  crossed  the  Bridge 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          49 

Brown  look'd  back  and  said  its  whole  population]  had 
turned  [out]  to  wonder  at  us/'  and  he  tells  of  a  drunken 
man  who  declared  that  "  he  had  seen  all  foreigners  bu-u-ut 
he  never  saw  the  like  o'  me,"  and  was  only  shaken  off  by 
being  threatened  with  the  police.  That  they  were  a  queer 
looking  pair  can  be  clearly  seen  by  Brown's  description  of 
himself  sent  in  a  letter  to  Mr.  Dilke  senior.  "An  odd 
fellow,"  he  calls  himself,  "and  moreover  an  odd  figure; 
imagine  me  with  a  thick  stick  in  my  hand,  the  knapsack  on 
my  back,  '  with  spectacles  on  my  nose,'  a  white  hat,  a  tartan 
coat  and  trowsers,  and  a  Highland  plaid  thrown  over  my 
shoulders!  Don't  laugh  at  me,  there's  a  good  fellow, 
although  Mr.  Keats  calls  me  the  Red  Cross  Knight,  and 
declares  my  own  shadow  is  ready  to  split  its  sides  as  it 
follows  me."  Keats  wore  a  plaid  and  a  fur  cap  —  this  last 
a  sufficiently  odd  choice  in  head-gear  for  the  middle  of 
Summer,  he  says  that  he  only  met  one  other  such  through- 
out his  travels  —  and  he  also  carried  the  inevitable  and 
mystifying  knapsack. 

The  next  morning  they  saw  the  cathedral  —  "  they  have 
devilled  it  into  'High  Kirk,' "  remarks  Keats  with  pungent 
emphasis  —  and  presumably  went  on  their  way  in  the 
afternoon;  but  at  this  point  the  days  become  confused,  and 
we  can  only  state  that  they  followed  the  banks  of  the  Clyde 
to  Dumbarton,  and  from  there  turned  due  North  to  Loch 
Lomond.  Here  the  sight  of  the  solitary  steam-boat  which 
plied  to  and  fro  on  the  lake  for  the  benefit  of  tourists,  and 
the  carriages  of  sightseers  on  its  shores,  brought  forth  from 
Keats  the  very  natural  complaint:  "Steam  Boats  on  Loch 
Lomond  and  Barouches  on  its  sides  take  a  little  from  the 
Pleasure  of  such  romantic  chaps  as  Brown  and  I."  Going 
along  up  the  West  side  of  Loch  Lomond,  they  seem  to  have 
reached  Tarbet  on  Wednesday  evening,  July  fifteenth. 
Of  this  part  of  the  Lake,  Keats  says: 

"The  north  end  of  Loch  Lomond  grand  in  excess — the 
entrance  at  the  lower  end  to  the  narrow  part  from  a  little 


50  JOHN  KEATS 

distance  is  precious  good  —  the  Evening  was  beautiful 
nothing  could  surpass  our  fortune  in  the  weather  —  yet 
was  I  worldly  enough  to  wish  for  a  fleet  of  chivalry  Barges 
with  Trumpets  and  Banners  just  to  die  away  before  me 
into  that  blue  place  among  the  mountains." 

Here  follows  a  sketch,  which  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  recognizes 
as  taken  from  a  spot  near  Tarbet. 

Tar  bet  Inn  was  the  usual  point  of  departure  for  an  ascent 
of  Ben  Lomond,  but  this  most  lauded  excursion  Keats  and 
Brown  did  not  make,  the  price  of  a  boat  across  the  lake 
and  a  guide  up  the  mountain  proving  sufficient  deterrents. 
Here,  indeed,  the  pedestrians  were  in  the  route  of  fashion- 
able excursionists,  and  prices  were  according  to  the  traffic, 
which  in  the  height  of  Summer  was  considerable.  Doubt- 
less the  two  young  men  did  not  have  the  appearance  of 
being  over  prolific  in  tips,  and  things  were  not  made  easy 
for  them.  My  grandfather  records  in  his  journal  an  ex- 
perience which  gives  us  a  clear  idea  of  the  hierarchy  of 
travellers  in  the  eyes  of  Scotch  innkeepers  of  the  period. 
Passing  over  the  same  route  which  Keats  had  just  traversed, 
but  in  inverse  order,  my  grandfather  posted  a  part  of  the 
way.  The  result  of  this  method  of  travelling  was,  he  de- 
clares, that  "at  every  inn  where  we  alighted,  there  were 
six  waiters  and  as  many  chambermaids,  to  help  us  out  of 
the  chaise.  Had  we  been  coach  passengers,  we  should  at 
most  have  seen  of  these  worthies  little  more  than  their 
backs."  As  the  greater  part  of  my  grandfather's  journey 
was  made  by  coach,  he  knew  whereof  he  spoke.  The  hier- 
archy aforesaid  consisted,  first  and  foremost,  of  people  in 
their  own  carriages;  second,  of  post-chaise  travellers;  and 
third,  of  coach  passengers.  Wayfarers  on  foot  were  neither 
expected  nor  welcomed,  and  we  may  be  certain  that  in  this 
much  frequented  part  of  the  Highlands  Keats  and  Brown 
met  with  scant  consideration. 

Thursday,  July  sixteenth,  seems  to  have  been  partly 
spent  in  strolling  about  the  shores  of  Loch  Lomond,  for 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          51 

Keats  consoles  himself  for  not  going  up  Ben  Lomond  by 
the  fact  of  "a  half  a  day  of  rest  being  quite  acceptable." 
It  is  interesting  to  note,  as  between  the  man  of  his  period 
and  the  man  ahead  of  his  period,  that  my  grandfather's 
account  of  this  country  is  all  asterisked  over  with  quota- 
tions from  Walter  Scott's  poems,  while  Keats  never  once 
alludes  to  them  in  any  way. 

As  if  to  make  up  for  the  unwonted  rest,  by  four  the  next 
morning  Keats  and  Brown  were  up  and  off,  intending  to 
breakfast  at  the  top  of  a  glen  nine  miles  on  their  road, 
where  Brown's  Itinerary  mentioned  a  place  called  "Rest 
and  be  thankful."  Arrived  at  the  spot,  to  their  dismay  it 
turned  out  to  be,  not  an  inn,  as  they  had  assumed,  but  a 
stone  seat,  so  they  were  obliged  to  foot  it  another  five  miles 
through  another  "Tremendous  Glen"  to  what  Keats  calls 
"Cairn-something,"  which  was  probably  what  is  now  the 
Cairndow  Hotel  at  the  Head  of  Loch  Fyne.  Fourteen 
miles  is  a  pretty  stiff  tramp  before  breakfast,  but  the  effort 
had  not  been  without  its  compensations.  The  glens  were 
beautiful  in  the  extreme,  and  coming  through  Glenside, 
says  Keats,  "it  was  early  in  the  morning  and  we  were 
pleased  with  the  noise  of  Shepherds,  Sheep  and  dogs  in  the 
misty  heights  close  above  us  —  we  saw  none  of  them  for 
some  time,  till  two  came  in  sight  creeping  among  the 
Crags  like  Emmets,  yet  their  voices  came  quite  plainly  to 
us."  It  is  in  passages  such  as  this  that  we  see  Keats's 
sensitiveness  to  impressions,  which  I  have  so  often  insisted 
upon,  at  its  highest  pitch.  Nothing  pertinent  to  the  crea- 
tion of  atmosphere  escaped  him,  and  it  is  just  these  sudden 
flashes  which  make  the  Scotch  letters  interesting. 

At  Cairndow,  the  wanderers  made  their  usual  after- 
breakfast  pause,  during  which  Keats  took  a  bath  in  Loch 
Fyne  and  got  badly  stung  by  gad-flies,  an  experience  which 
produced  from  his  irate  soul  a  set  of  doggerel  stanzas  on 
the  gad-fly.  He  also  began  a  letter  to  Tom.  Late  in  the 
afternoon,  the  friends  rounded  the  top  of  Loch  Fyne  and 


52  JOHN  KEATS 

proceeded  to  Inverary,  where  they  stopped  for  the  night. 
On  the  way  thither,  they  passed  the  Duke  of  Argyle's 
castle,  which,  with  its  surroundings,  Keats  describes  in 
two  words  —  another  of  his  swift,  sure  tricks  of  delineation: 

"The  Duke  of  Argyle's  Castle  is  very  modern  magnifi- 
cent and  more  so  from  the  place  it  is  in  —  the  woods  seem 
old  enough  to  remember  two  or  three  changes  in  the  Crags 
about  them  —  the  Lake  was  beautiful  and  there  was  a 
band  at  a  distance  by  the  Castle.  I  must  say  I  enjoyed  two 
or  three  common  tunes  —  but  nothing  could  stifle  the 
horrors  of  a  solo  on  the  Bag-pipe  —  I  thought  the  beast 
would  never  have  done." 

One  might  suppose  that  the  day  had  contained  enough 
to  satisfy  even  the  insatiable  ardour  of  twenty-two.  By  no 
means.  Seeing  a  play  bill  as  they  entered  the  town,  which 
announced  to  all  and  sundry  that  that  most  beloved  piece 
of  the  period,  The  Stranger,  was  to  be  performed  in  a  near- 
by barn,  Keats,  leaving  Brown  who  was  "  knocked  up  from 
new  shoes"  to  repose  in  the  inn,  repaired  thither  and 
witnessed  the  well-known  play  to  the  intermittent  accom- 
paniment of  another  bagpipe.  Famous  though  the  play 
was,  Keats  had  never  seen  it  before,  had  not  even  read  it, 
and  his  modernity  and  good  taste  are  much  in  evidence  in 
his  criticism  of  it.  "Not  the  Bag-pipe,"  he  exclaims,  "nor 
the  wretched  players  themselves  were  little  in  compari- 
son with  it  —  thank  heaven  it  has  been  scoffed  at  lately 
almost  to  a  fashion."  The  bagpipe  and  The  Stranger  set 
Keats  off  upon  an  ironic  sonnet,  usually  known  as  On  Hear- 
ing the  Bag-pipe,  composed  either  that  night  or  the  next 
morning.  The  irony  is  enhanced  by  his  choosing  for  it  the 
Shakespearian  form. 

The  next  day,  Saturday,  July  eighteenth,  Brown's  feet 
were  in  such  a  state  that  walking  was  not  to  be  thought  of, 
but  he  and  Keats  were  consoled  by  the  arrival  of  a  thunder- 
storm which  would  have  prevented  them  from  going  on  in 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          53 

any  case.    Keats  spent  the  day  in  letter  writing,  first  to 
Tom  and  then  to  Bailey. 

This  letter  to  Bailey  is  extremely  important,  for  it  re- 
veals a  side  of  Keats  on  which  he  is  usually  peculiarly 
reticent,  but  which  seems  to  have  occupied  him  not  a  little 
at  the  time.  Before  coming  to  that,  however,  there  is  an- 
other little  flash  of  self-revelation,  which,  as  he  wrote  it, 
was  part  actual  fact,  part  camouflage,  and  part  un- 
doubtedly a  persuasion  of  himself  that  what  he  wished  had 
indeed  happened.  To  understand  the  significance  of  the 
passage,  we  must  remember  two  things.  The  first  is  the 
letter  from  Burford  Bridge  to  Bailey  in  which  Keats  speaks 
of  his  changing  moods;1  the  second  is  the  letter  of  June 
tenth  to  the  same  correspondent,  that  terrible  letter  of 
grief  and  discouragement,  written  just  after  George's 
marriage,  in  which  Keats  gazed  open-eyed  at  the  future 
and  saw  only  misery  ahead.2  Evidently  Keats's  confession 
of  himself  had  greatly  distressed  Bailey.  What  Bailey  had 
said  to  him  about  the  matter,  we  do  not  know,  but  this  is 
certainly  his  reply  to  it: 

"And  here,  Bailey,  I  will  say  a  few  words  written  in  a 
sane  and  sober  mind,  a  very  scarce  thing  with  me,  for  they 
may,  hereafter,  save  you  a  great  deal  of  trouble  about  me, 
which  you  do  not  deserve,  and  for  which  I  ought  to  be 
bastinadoed.  I  carry  all  matters  to  an  extreme  —  so  that 
when  I  have  any  little  vexation,  it  grows  in  five  minutes 
into  a  theme  for  Sophocles.  Then,  and  in  that  temper,  if  I 
write  to  any  friend,  I  have  so  little  self-possession  that  I 
give  him  matter  for  grieving,  at  the  very  time  perhaps 
when  I  am  laughing  at  a  Pun.  Your  last  letter  made  me 
blush  for  the  pain  I  had  given  you —  I  know  my  own  dis- 
position so  well  that  I  am  certain  of  writing  many  times 
hereafter  in  the  same  strain  to  you  —  now  you  know  how 
far  to  believe  in  them.  You  must  allow  for  Imagination. 
I  know  I  shall  not  be  able  to  help  it." 

That  Keats  understood  himself  quite  well  in  this  par- 
1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  524.  *  See  Vol.  II,  p.  10. 


54  JOHN  KEATS 

ticular,  we  have  seen  again  and  again  —  so  much  for  the 
actual  fact  of  the  passage;  that  George's  departure  for 
America  for  life  and  Tom's  serious  illness  could  come  under 
the  head  of  "little  vexations  "  even  to  his  changed  mood,  it 
is  ridiculous  to  suppose,  this  making  light  of  events  and  his 
own  past  expressions  in  regard  to  them  is  the  part  which  I 
have  called  camouflage,  and  leads  us  to  the  persuasion  of 
himself  which  I  have  said  is  also  here.  The  Scotch  tramp 
had  been  tonic,  and  the  bracing  in  nerves  and  point  of  view 
which  he  had  undergone  had  certainly  dulled  the  acuteness 
of  his  misery,  but  that  he  had  been  as  entirely  cured  of  his 
melancholy  as  he  appears  by  his  words  to  be  is  not  likely, 
much  as  he  wished  to  believe  it.  It  was  happily  overlaid 
for  the  moment,  and  he  had  no  wish  to  probe  himself  on  the 
subject. 

For  the  second,  more  important  revelation,  we  must 
again  recollect  back  and  remind  ourselves  of  Keats's  grow- 
ing irritation  with  the  Reynolds  girls.1  He  had  felt  it  be- 
fore his  departure  for  Devonshire,  and  it  would  appear 
from  this  letter  to  Bailey  that  on  his  return  to  Hampstead 
he  had  found  himself  so  out  of  love  with  them  as  practically 
to  give  up  going  to  the  Reynoldses'  house.  That  Reynolds 
himself  was  as  much  his  friend  as  ever,  we  know;  and  there 
is  no  sign  that  Reynolds  resented  his  behaviour.  Not  so 
Bailey,  who  seems  to  have  remonstrated  vigorously  with 
Keats  on  his  altered  attitude.  A  nice  bit  of  irony,  had 
Keats  but  been  able  to  see  into  the  future,  for  Bailey  was 
about  to  submit  to  an  alteration  in  his  own  attitude  toward 
the  Reynoldses,  and  Marianne  in  particular,  much  more 
dire  than  that  of  Keats  could  ever  be.2  When  Keats  was 
writing  this  letter  from  Inverary,  Bailey's  grand  defection 
had  probably  taken  place;  but  of  this,  Keats  knew  nothing. 

Keats's  answer  to  Bailey's  strictures  is  as  follows: 

8  "  I  am  sorry  you  are  grieved  at  my  not  continuing  my 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  587.  *  See  Vol.  I,  pp.  478-479- 

1  This  passage  differs  slightly  from  the  printed  version,  having  been 
corrected  from  the  original  letter  in  my  possession. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          55 

visits  to  Little  Britain.  Yet  I  think  I  have  as  far  as  a  Man 
can  do  who  has  Books  to  read  and  subjects  to  think  upon 

—  for  that  reason  I  have  been  no  where  else  except  to 
Wentworth  Place  so  nigh  at  hand  —  moreover  I  have  been 
too  often  in  a  state  of  health  that  made  me  think  it  prudent 
not  to  hazard  the  night  air.   Yet,  further,  I  will  confess  to 
you  that  I  cannot  enjoy  Society,  small  or  numerous.  I  am 
certain  that  our  fair  friends  are  glad  I  should  come  for  the 
mere  sake  of  my  coming;  but  I  am  certain  I  bring  with  me 
a  vexation  they  are  better  without.  If  I  can  possibly  at  any 
time  feel  my  temper  coming  upon  me  I  refrain  even  from  a 
promised  visit.    I  am  certain  I  have  not  a  right  feeling 
towards  women  —  at  this  moment  I  am  striving  to  be  just 
to  them,  but  I  cannot.    Is  it  because  they  fall  so  far  be- 
neath my  boyish  Imagination?  When  I  was  a  schoolboy  I 
thought  a  fair  woman  a  pure  Goddess;  my  mind  was  a  soft 
nest  in  which  some  one  of  them  slept,  though  she  knew  it 
not.   I  have  no  right  to  expect  more  than  their  reality  —  I 
thought  them  ethereal  above  men  —  I  find  them  perhaps 
equal  —  great  by  comparison  is  very  small.  Insult  may  be 
inflicted  in  more  ways  than  by  word  or  action.  One  who  is 
tender  of  being  insulted  does  not  like  to  think  an  insult 
against  another.   I  do  not  like  to  think  insults  in  a  lady's 
company  —  I  commit  a  crime  with  her  which  absence 
would  not  have  known.    Is  it  not  extraordinary?  —  when 
among  men,  I  have  no  evil  thoughts,  no  malice,  no  spleen 

—  I  feel  free  to  speak  or  be  silent  —  I  can  listen,  and  from 
every  one  I  can  learn  —  my  hands  are  in  my  pockets,  I  am 
free  from  all  suspicion  and  comfortable.  When  I  am  among 
women,  I  have  evil  thoughts,  malice,  spleen  —  I  cannot 
speak,  or  be  silent  —  I  am  full  of  suspicions,  and  therefore 
listen  to  nothing  —  I  am  in  a  hurry  to  be  gone.  You  must 
be  charitable  and  put  all  this  perversity  to  my  being  dis- 
appointed since  my  boyhood.  Yet  with  such  feelings  I  am 
happier  alone  among  crowds  of  men,  by  myself,  or  with  a 
friend  or  two.  With  all  this,  trust  me  —  Bailey  I  have  not 
the  least  idea  that  men  of  different  feelings  and  inclinations 
are  more  short-sighted  than  myself.   I  never  rejoiced  more 
than  at  my  Brother's  marriage,  and  shall  do  so  at  that  of 
any  of  my  friends.   I  must  absolutely  get  over  this  —  but 


56  JOHN  KEATS 

how?  the  only  way  is  to  find  the  root  of  the  evil,  and  so 
cure  it  'with  backward  mutterings  of  dissevering  power'  — 
that  is  a  difficult  thing;  for  an  obstinate  Prejudice  can 
seldom  be  produced  but  from  a  gordian  complication  of 
feelings,  which  must  take  time  to  unravel,  and  care  to  keep 
unravelled.  I  could  say  a  good  deal  about  this,  but  I  will 
leave  it,  in  hopes  of  better  and  more  worthy  dispositions  — 
and  also  content  that  I  am  wronging  no  one,  for  after  all  I 
do  think  better  of  womankind  than  to  suppose  they  care 
whether  Mister  John  Keats  five  feet  high  likes  them  or  not.1 
You  appeared  to  wish  to  avoid  any  words  on  this  subject  — 
don't  think  it  a  bore  my  dear  fellow,  it  shall  be  my 
Amen." 

Of  course  Keats's  malaise  in  the  presence  of  women  was 
merely  the  reverse  of  a  ripening  sexual  instinct.  Such 
mauvaise  honte  is  a  very  common  phenomenon  of  adoles- 
cence. Most  boys  experience  something  of  the  sort  at  about 
sixteen.  Keats's  peculiarity  is  that,  with  him,  it  held  off  un- 
til he  was  twenty-two,  and,  coming  so  late,  found  a  brain 
and  senses  so  far  matured  beyond  it  as  to  give  the  instinct 
itself  a  touch  of  tragedy  by  presenting  it  to  the  consciousness 
all  tangled  up  with  thoughts,  and  reflections,  and  introspec- 
tions, which  the  boy  in  his  'teens  is  happily  without.  There 
is  undoubtedly  truth  in  Keats's  belief  that  his  love  for  his 
Brothers  had  prevented  any  woman  from  making  a  deep 
impression  upon  him,  as  he  had  told  Bailey  some  six  weeks 
before;2  but  it  is  also  true  that  Keats  had  to  mature  many 
sides  of  himself.  We  have  seen  his  progress  from  boyhood. 
We  have  watched,  first,  the  growth  of  his  poetical  power, 
then,  later,  the  development  of  his  thinking  capacity,  his 
quality  of  reasoning,  the  increase  of  his  intellectual  curiosity. 
The  last  part  of  his  personality  to  come  to  man's  estate  was 
the  sexual.  Fleeting  sexual  attractions,  he  had  known;  but 
he  had  always  been  clear  headed  enough  to  recognize  their 
superficiality.  Intellectually  he  had  perfectly  apprehended 

i  See  Vol.  I,  p.  96.  •  See  Vol.  II,  p.  10. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          57 

the  dual  quality  of  love,  as  I  have  shown  in  my  analysis  of 
Endymion,  but  when  in  actual  life  the  significance  of 
woman  as  the  corresponding  sex  presented  itself  to  him,  he 
failed  to  recognize  what  was  happening.  With  the  banish- 
ment of  momentary  lust  as  a  sufficient  satisfaction,  what 
he  received  in  compensation  was  not  the  realization  of  any 
specific  need  for  love  in  its  entirety  as  embodied  in  any 
known  woman,  but  a  sudden  suspicion  of  all  women  be- 
cause of  his  altered  awareness  of  them,  shorn  as  this  was  of 
the  corrective  of  strong  individual  attraction.  The  stage 
was  being  set  for  Fanny  Brawne,  although  of  such  a 
condition  in  himself  he  had  no  idea.  Sexual  psychology 
was  not  in  the  least  understood  a  century  ago.  The  quasi- 
knowledge  of  the  subject  possessed  by  other  and  older 
civilizations  had  long  been  lost.  Keats's  utter  ignorance  of 
what  was  the  matter  with  him  seems  strange  in  this  super- 
sexualized  beginning  of  the  twentieth  century,  when  every 
school-boy  babbles  Freud,  and,  if  we  think  we  know  much 
more  than  we  do,  at  least  no  young  person  is  likely  to 
consider  a  given  condition  as  not  due  to  the  sexual  instinct 
when  it  is.  If  Keats  had  been  able  "  to  find  the  root  of  the 
evil,"  he  would  have  been  much  better  equipped  to  cope 
with  his  love  for  Fanny  Brawne  when  it  came;  but  this  root 
was  just  what  he  could  not  find.  Sex,  the  world  under- 
stood; but  not  the  connection  of  sex  with  mental  phenom- 
ena. So  Keats  groped,  shocked  at  himself,  and  remained  in 
ignorance,  confessing  everything  to  Bailey  as  was  his  wont 
—  Bailey,  the  last  man  who  could  help  him  under  the 
circumstances.  Bailey,  as  Keats  said  later,  loved  like  a 
ploughman,  and  pursued  the  changing  objects  of  his  desire 
with  a  satyr-like  lack  of  deviousness.  At  the  time  of  Keats's 
writing,  his  last  quarry  had  fallen  into  his  arms,  and  he 
was,  if  not  yet  the  accepted,  certainly  the  encouraged,  lover 
of  Miss  Gleig. 

As  a  sort  of  addenda  to  what  he  considered  his  prejudiced 
view  of  womankind,  Keats  wrote  immediately  after  it: 


58  JOHN  KEATS 

"I  should  not  have  consented  to  myself  these  four 
months  tramping  in  the  highlands,  but  that  I  thought 
it  would  give  me  more  experience,  rub  off  more  preju- 
dice, use  to  more  hardships,  identify  finer  scenes,  load  me 
with  grander  mountains,  and  strengthen  more  my  reach  in 
Poetry,  than  would  stopping  at  home  among  books,  even 
though  I  should  reach  Homer." 

Probably  he  was  right;  but  one  can  have  too  much  of  any- 
thing, and  fatigue  is  a  great  discountenancer.  That  his 
eager  response  to  the  scenery  was  becoming  a  little  dulled 
by  habit,  can  be  seen  in  this  sentence: 

"By  this  time  I  am  comparatively  a  Mountaineer.  I 
have  been  among  wilds  and  mountains  too  much  to  break 
out  much  about  their  grandeur.  I  have  fed  upon  oat-cake 
—  not  long  enough  to  be  very  much  attached  to  it.  —  The 
first  mountains  I  saw,  though  not  so  large  as  some  I  have 
seen  since,  weighed  very  solemnly  upon  me.  The  effect  is 
wearing  away  —  yet  I  like  them  mainly." 

Keats  was  a  gallant  and  loyal  soul,  and  it  never  seems  to 
have  crossed  his  mind  that  the  trip  for  him  had  passed  its 
meridian  and  that  to  continue  it  was,  considering  the 
coarse  and  monotonous  food  which  was  all  that  was  ob- 
tainable in  the  roadside  taverns  on  the  way,  an  imprudence. 
He  was  pledged  for  the  Summer  to  Brown  and  pedestrian- 
ism,  and  had  no  intention  of  changing  his  plans.  His  diges- 
tion began  to  suffer,  and  no  wonder.  On  Sunday,  July 
nineteenth,  the  friends  trudged  twenty  miles  down  the 
side  of  Loch  Awe;  Brown,  with  his  feet  blistered,  scarcely 
able  to  walk.  Where  they  spent  the  night,  we  do  not 
know,  but  their  supper  consisted  of  eggs  and  oat-cake. 
"We  have  lost  the  sight  of  white  bread  entirely,"  bemoans 
Keats;  and,  concerning  the  supper,  he  exclaims:  "Now  we 
had  eaten  nothing  but  Eggs  all  day  —  about  10  a  piece  and 
they  had  become  sickening."  Things  were  not  always  as 
bad  as  this,  on  Monday  they  managed  to  procure  "a  small 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         59 

Chicken  and  even  a  good  bottle  of  Port"  somewhere,  but 
Keats  admits  "  all  together  the  fare  is  too  coarse  —  I  feel  it 
a  little."  Still  the  walk  had  been  beautiful:  "We  had  come 
along  a  complete  mountain  road,  where  if  one  listened 
there  was  not  a  sound  but  that  of  Mountain  Streams," 
writes  Keats,  and  "The  approach  to  Loch  Awe  was  very 
solemn  towards  nightfall  —  the  first  glance  was  a  streak  of 
water  deep  in  the  Bases  of  large  black  mountains."  Near- 
ing  the  sea,  Keats  once  again  becomes  enthusiastic:  "the 
distant  Mountains  in  the  Hebrides  very  grand,  the  Salt- 
water Lakes  coming  up  between  Crags  and  Islands  full  tide 
and  scarcely  ruffled."  They  also  saw  "an  Eagle  or  two." 
"They  move  about  without  the  least  motion  of  Wings 
when  in  an  indolent  fit,"  his  always  alert  observation 
announces. 

Monday  night  seems  to  have  been  passed,  for  a  wonder, 
in  a  comfortable  inn,  but  where  it  stood  is  not  stated.  How 
comfortable  this  inn  was,  we  can  infer  by  its  furnishings, 
among  which  was  a  table,  "  a  nice  flapped  Mahogany  one." 
"There  is  a  Gaelic  Testament  on  the  Drawers  in  the  next 
room,"  Keats  adds,  and  does  not  fail  to  notice  that  "White 
and  blue  China  ware  has  crept  all  about  here."  This  last  is 
an  illuminating  touch,  and  gives  us  the  period  in  a  nutshell. 
For  where  was  the  inn  or  well-to-do  farmer's  house  through- 
out the  length  and  breadth  of  Great  Britain  at  the  begin- 
ning of  the  nineteenth  century,  to  which  the  blue  and  white 
pottery  plates  of  the  indefatigable  Wedgwood  had  not 
penetrated.  They  were  a  symbol  of  the  period,  although,  of 
course,  the  period  never  looked  upon  them  in  any  such 
light. 

Reaching  Oban  on  Tuesday,  the  twenty-first,  in  a  soak- 
ing rain,  their  first  thought  was  that  here  was  the  place  to 
embark  for  the  Island  of  Staffa,  where  was  Fingal's  Cave 
which  they  were  most  anxious  to  see,  the  more  so,  un- 
doubtedly, because  they  had  missed  the  Giant's  Causeway. 
On  making  inquiries,  however,  they  found  once  again  that 


60  JOHN  KEATS 

this  was  a  popular  excursion,  and  the  boat  price  in  con- 
sequence had  mounted  to  the  extortionate  sum  of  seven 
guineas.  This  was  a  baffler,  and  they  reluctantly  decided  to 
give  up  Staffa  and  go  straight  on  next  day  to  Fort  William. 
Having  come  to  this  decision,  they  were  ruefully  trying  to 
digest  it,  when  in  came  one  of  the  men  of  whom  they  had 
been  making  inquiries.  This  astute  person  suggested  that 
the  cheapest  way  to  reach  Staffa  was  to  take  the  ferry  which 
ran  between  Oban  and  the  Island  of  Kerrara,  and  at 
Kerrara  shift  to  another  ferry  plying  from  Kerrara  to  Mull. 
He  offered  himself  as  guide  across  the  latter  island,  at  the 
Southwestern  end  of  which,  he  declared,  a  boat  could  be 
hired  for  the  short  distance  to  Staffa  and  back.  After  some 
haggling,  a  bargain  was  struck,  and  the  next  day,  Wednes- 
day, the  friends  and  their  optimistic  guide  ferried,  first 
to  Kerrara,  and  then  to  Mull,  the  last  crossing  of  nine 
miles  being  accomplished  "in  forty  minutes  with  a  fine 
Breeze." 

Mull  was  almost  totally  unfrequented  by  travellers,  the 
trip  to  Staffa  and  return  being  usually  made  entirely  by 
water,  in  the  boat  of  prohibitive  prices.  Their  first  day's 
experience  is  described  by  Keats  to  Tom  thus: 

"The  road  through  the  Island,  or  rather  the  track,  is  the 
most  dreary  you  can  think  of  —  between  dreary  Moun- 
tains —  over  bog  and  rock  and  river  with  our  Breeches 
tucked  up  and  our  Stockings  in  hand.  About  eight  o'Clock 
we  arrived  at  a  shepherd's  Hut  into  which  we  could  scarcely 
get  for  the  Smoke  through  a  door  lower  than  my  shoulders. 
We  found  our  way  into  a  little  compartment  with  the 
rafters  and  turf  thatch  blackened  with  smoke  —  the  earth 
floor  full  of  Hills  and  Dales.  We  had  some  white  Bread 
with  us,  made  a  good  supper  and  slept  in  our  Clothes  in 
some  Blankets." 

The  following  morning,  July  twenty-third,  they  walked 
six  miles  to  a  place  set  down  by  Keats  as  Dun  an  cullen, 
which  both  Buxton  Forman  and  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  think 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         61 

may  have  been  Derrynacullen.  Here  Keats  began  another 
letter  to  Tom,  and  finished  the  one  begun  at  Inverary  to 
Bailey.  After  finishing  Bailey's  letter,  he  proceeded  to 
cross  it  with  a  poem,  the  genesis  of  which  he  gives  by  say- 
ing that  he  has  destroyed  the  wretched  sonnet  written  in 
Burns's  cottage,  but  that  "a  few  days  afterwards  I  wrote 
some  lines  cousin-german  to  the  circumstance,  which  I  will 
transcribe."  The  poem  is  Lines  written  in  the  Highlands 
after  a  Visit  to  Burns's  Country. 

When  were  these  Lines  written?  Unfortunately,  we  have 
really  no  clue  to  guide  us  to  any  sort  of  determination  on 
the  subject.  I  am  inclined  to  attribute  them  to  the  nice 
flapped  Mahogany  table  in  the  nameless  inn  on  account  of 
the  line: 

"Eagles  may  seem  to  sleep  wing  wide  upon  the  Air," 

which  seems  to  establish  a  connection  with  his  mention  of 
eagles  to  Tom  in  the  letter  written  on  that  same  table. 
This  is  the  first  time  that  he  speaks  of  eagles,  and  the 
passage  reads  as  though  it  were  the  first  time  that  he  had 
seen  any.  But,  on  the  other  hand,  the  scenery  of  the  poem 
is  clearly  not  that  of  the  country  he  was  then  traversing. 
The  first  line: 

41  There  is  a  charm  in  footing  slow  across  a  silent  plain," 

does  not  refer  to  any  spot  gone  over  in  the  days  im- 
mediately preceding  his  sojourn  in  the  inn  of  the  flapped 
table.  Exactly  what  place,  or  type  of  place,  the  poem 
describes,  I  leave  for  those  familiar  with  the  ground  to  fer- 
ret out.  For  me,  who  have  never  been  in  that  part  of  the 
Scotch  Highlands,  such  ferreting  is  impossible.  It  is  but 
fair  to  say,  however,  that  a  poet  has  no  need  to  be  in  the 
place  that  he  is  describing.  I  have  already  pointed  out,  in 
the  chapter  on  Endymion^  that  reminiscence  is  a  potent 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  388. 


62  JOHN  KEATS 

factor  in  creative  art.  That  Keats  was  far  from  any 
"silent  plain,"  is  rather  more  a  reason  for  his  writing  of  one 
than  not. 

The  first  part  of  the  poem  is  excellent  description;  just 
this  and  no  more.  Nowhere  throughout  it  do  we  find  the 
slightest  hint  of  Keats's  usual  charm  when  dealing  with 
nature,  not  once  is  there  a  single  flash  of  his  genius  for 
evocation.  The  plod  of  his  feet  is  echoed  in  his  lines,  and 
we  cannot  suppress  the  conviction  that  the  poem  was 
written,  not  because  he  could  not  resist  it,  but  because  he 
wanted  to  try  again  to  write  something  about  Burns  to  take 
the  taste  of  his  unsuccessful  sonnet  out  of  his  mouth.  The 
end  is  a  didactic  presentation  of  the  giddiness  produced 
by  a  contemplation  of  life's  futility  in  the  midst  of  heroic 
and  rather  forbidding  scenery.  A  curious  thing  about  the 
poem,  and  perhaps  its  chief  interest,  is  the  fact  that  it  is 
written  in  a  very  old  English  measure  —  the  septenary, 
called  so  because  it  has  seven  beats,  or  fourteen  syllables, 
to  a  line.  In  its  unbroken  form,  as  here,  it  is  not  very 
common  in  recent  English  poetry,  although  both  Words- 
worth and  Mrs.  Browning  wrote  rhymed  septenaries,  but 
when  each  line  is  divided  into  two,  the  first  having  four 
beats  and  the  last  three,  it  becomes  the  regular  ballad 
stanza;  in  its  broken  form,  it  is  also  much  employed  by  the 
writers  of  hymns.  Keats's  familiarity  with  it  in  the  original 
long  line  may  have  come  from  many  sources,  but  un- 
doubtedly the  chief  of  these,  for  him,  was  Chapman's  trans- 
lation of  the  Odyssey.  Keats  himself  does  not  seem  to  have 
been  over  pleased  with  these  Lines  for  he  never  again  refers 
to  them  to  any  one,  at  least  not  in  the  letters  which  have 
come  down  to  us. 

To  return  to  the  Island  of  Mull.  It  was  thirty-seven 
miles  across  from  where  the  ferry  landed  the  travellers  to 
the  tip  end  of  the  Ross  of  Mull,  whither  they  were  bound. 
We  have  already  seen  what  Keats  had  to  say  of  the  first 
day,  here  is  what  Brown  says  of  all  the  days: 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         63 

1  "  I  must  not  think  of  the  wind,  and  the  sun,  and  the  rain, 
after  our  journey  to  the  Island  of  Mull.  There's  a  wild 
place!  Thirty-seven  miles  of  jumping  and  flinging  over 
great  stones  along  no  path  at  all,  up  the  steep  and  down  the 
steep,  and  wading  through  rivulets  up  to  the  knees,  and 
crossing  a  bog,  a  mile  long,  up  to  the  ankles." 

To  add  to  all  this  discomfort,  Keats  caught  a  cold  which 
flew  to  his  throat.  On  they  struggled,  however,  somewhat 
cheered  by  the  guide's  singing  of  Gaelic  songs,  and  in  due 
time  reached  the  coast  directly  opposite  the  Island  of  lona. 
Crossing  the  narrow  strip  of  water  to  this  island,  they  paid 
a  visit  to  the  ruins  of  the  great  cathedral  church  still  stand- 
ing there.  Keats  was  greatly  impressed  by  these  ruins.  I 
only  wish  there  were  space  to  quote  his  account  of  them, 
sent  to  Tom,  but  it  is  too  long.  At  lona,  the  friends 
bargained  for  a  boat  to  take  them  to  Staffa  and  land  them 
afterwards  at  the  head  of  Loch  na  Keal,  from  which  place 
the  distance  back  to  the  ferry  would  be  reduced  by  at  least 
one  half. 

Fingal's  Cave  in  the  Island  of  Staffa  was  a  new  sensation, 
and  amply  repaid  Keats  for  the  abominable  tramp  across 
Mull.  Neither  his  fatigue  nor  his  sore  throat  could  dampen 
his  delight.  "Suppose  now,"  he  says,  in  an  effort  to  give 
Tom  some  idea  of  the  place,  "the  Giants  who  rebelled 
against  Jove  had  taken  a  whole  Mass  of  black  Columns  and 
bound  them  together  like  bunches  of  matches  —  and  then 
with  immense  Axes  had  made  a  cavern  in  the  body  of  these 
columns  —  of  course  the  roof  and  floor  must  be  composed 
of  the  broken  ends  of  the  Columns  —  such  is  fingal's  Cave 
except  that  the  Sea  has  done  the  work  of  excavations  and 
is  continually  dashing  there  —  so  that  we  walk  along  the 
sides  of  the  cave  on  the  pillars  which  are  left  as  if  for  con- 
venient stairs."  So  much  for  the  contour  of  the  place;  but 
for  the  colour,  Keats,  rare  colourist  that  he  was,  misses  no 
shade  of  it.  He  says:  "  the  colour  of  the  columns  is  a  sort  of 

1  Quoted  by  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 


64  JOHN  KEATS 

black  with  a  lurking  gloom  of  purple  therein,"  which  is  al- 
most a  poem  as  it  stands.  His  complete  impression  of  the 
cave  he  sums  up  in  a  sentence : "  For  solemnity  and  grandeur 
it  far  surpasses  the  finest  Cathedral."  Another  of  his 
sentences  I  must  give  for  its  vividness,  and  also,  again,  its 
colour:  "As  we  approached  in  the  boat  there  was  such  a 
fine  swell  of  the  sea  that  the  pillars  appeared  rising  im- 
mediately out  of  the  crystal."  His  conclusion,  however,  is 
that  "it  is  impossible  to  describe  it."  Having  given  up 
description,  he  takes  to  poetry  and  symbolism,  and  tran- 
scribes the  poem  known  as  Staffa.  In  Staffa,  Lycidas  is 
conjured  up  as  the  custodian  of  this  great  sea  cathedral, 
consecrated  to,  and  built  by,  Oceanus.  The  poem,  without 
being  really  very  memorable,  has  an  undeniable  charm,  and 
it  has  more,  for  somehow  it  gives  a  perfect  impression  of 
water  dashing  against  wet  stone.  It  smells  of  dampness, 
and  rings  thunderous  with  waves.  At  the  end,  Keats's  fit  of 
creation  suddenly  deserted  him,  and  the  six  lines  im- 
mediately preceding  the  last  two  descend  into  something 
little  better  than  doggerel. 

The  Staffa  day  was  bright  and  sunny,  or  at  least  it  be- 
came so  at  the  very  moment  when  the  travellers  sighted 
the  island,  a  welcome  contrast  to  the  weather  they  had  been 
having.  Dolphins  circled  up  out  of  the  water,  and  the  sun 
glinted  on  the  waves.  All  this  was  new  —  not  moun- 
tain, nor  lake,  nor  heather  —  new,  and  Keats  reacted 
accordingly. 

With  Staffa,  the  objective  of  the  excursion  from  Oban 
was  reached,  and  back  the  friends  came,  by  foot  and  ferry, 
to  that  town,  where  they  seem  to  have  arrived  on  the  eve- 
ning of  Saturday,  July  twenty-fifth.  Keats's  throat  was 
giving  him  a  good  deal  of  trouble,  although  he  only  says  of 
it:  "I  have  a  slight  sore  throat  and  think  it  best  to  stay  a 
day  or  two  at  Oban."  But  his  fatigue  is  very  evident  in 
this  remark  to  Tom:  "I  assure  you  I  often  long  for  a  seat 
and  a  Cup  o'  tea  at  Well  Walk  —  especially  now  that 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         65 

mountains,  castles  and  Lakes  are  becoming  common  to  me 
—  yet  I  would  rather  summer  it  out,  for  on  the  whole  I  am 
happier  than  when  I  have  time  to  be  glum  —  perhaps  it 
may  cure  me." 

How  many  days  the  "day  or  two"  were  in  actual  fact,  is 
a  blank,  but  by  Saturday,  August  first,  the  pair  were  at 
Fort  William,  from  which  place  they  made  the  ascent  of 
Ben  Nevis  on  Sunday,  the  second.  Keats's  madness  in  sub- 
mitting himself  to  such  a  strain  in  his  fatigued  condition  is 
easily  accounted  for  by  realizing  that  no  young  fellow  of 
twenty-two  likes  to  admit  himself  too  tired  to  keep  up  with 
his  companions.  Brown's  foolishness  in  permitting  Keats 
to  go,  is  another  thing.  But  Brown  was  unaccustomed  to 
considering  his  own  health,  which  never  wanted  considera- 
tion, and  probably,  also,  he  believed  Keats's  statement  that 
his  throat  was  "in  a  fair  way  of  getting  well,"  this  he  told 
Tom  the  next  day,  but  such  indeed  was  not  the  case.  Mad- 
ness and  folly,  the  ascent  of  Ben  Nevis  certainly  was,  but 
up  they  went  just  the  same.  And  what  young  man  of 
spunk  would  have  held  back  ?  For  again  we  must  remember 
that  Keats  had  no  idea  that  his  sore  throats  betokened  any 
illness  beyond  themselves. 

The  weather,  which  had  treated  them  so  considerately 
at  Staffa,  accorded  them  no  such  capricious  indulgence 
during  the  ascent  of  Ben  Nevis.  When  our  travellers 
started,  at  about  five  o'clock  in  the  morning,  with  their 
guide  —  a  gentleman  attired,  remarks  Keats,  with  his 
indefatigable  instinct  for  noting  everything, "  in  Tartan  and 
Cap,"  —  the  day  promised  well;  then,  half-way  up,  the 
climbers  suddenly  walked  into  a  mist,  which  obstinately 
clung  to  them  thereafter  in  varying  degrees  of  denseness. 
But  here  Keats  shall  retail  his  own  experience: 

"  I  am  heartily  glad  it  is  done  —  it  is  almost  like  a  fly 
crawling  up  a  wainscoat.  Imagine  the  task  of  mounting 
ten  Saint  Pauls  without  the  convenience  of  Staircases. .  . 
after  much  fag  and  tug  and  a  rest  and  a  glass  of  whiskey 


66  JOHN  KEATS 

apiece  we  gained  the  top  of  the  first  rise  and  saw  then  a 
tremendous  chap  above  us,  which  the  guide  said  was  still 
far  from  the  top.  After  the  first  Rise  our  way  lay  along  a 
heath  valley  in  which  there  was  a  Loch  —  after  about  a 
Mile  in  this  Valley  we  began  upon  the  next  ascent,  more 
formidable  by  far  than  the  last,  and  kept  mounting  with 
short  intervals  of  rest  until  we  got  above  all  vegitation, 
among  nothing  but  loose  Stones  which  lasted  us  to  the  very 
top  —  the  Guide  said  we  had  three  Miles  of  a  stony  ascent 
—  we  gained  the  first  tolerable  level  after  the  valley  to  the 
height  of  what  in  the  Valley  we  had  thought  the  top  and 
saw  still  above  us  another  huge  crag  which  still  the  Guide 
said  was  not  the  top  —  to  that  we  made  with  an  obstinate 
fag,  and  having  gained  it  there  came  on  a  Mist,  so  that  from 
that  part  to  the  very  top  we  walked  in  a  Mist." 

Snow  began  to  appear  here  and  there.  Every  now  and  then, 
the  party  stopped,  and  Keats  and  Brown  tumbled  stones 
into  the  fissures  between  the  rocks  to  hear  the  echoes 
reverberating  up  to  them  "in  fine  style."  If  the  first  part 
of  the  climb  had  seemed  difficult,  the  loose  stones  of  the 
last  part  were  a  thousand  times  more  trying.  Keats  does 
full  justice  to  the  discomforts  of  the  final  pull  to  the  summit 
in  the  letter  to  Tom  from  which  I  have  been  quoting: 

"  I  have  said  nothing  yet  of  our  getting  on  among  the 
loose  stones  large  and  small  sometimes  on  two,  sometimes 
on  three,  sometimes  on  four  legs  —  sometimes  two  and 
stick,  sometimes  three  and  stick,  then  four  again,  then 
two,  then  a  jump,  so  that  we  kept  on  ringing  changes  on 
foot,  hand,  stick,  jump,  boggle,  stumble,  foot,  hand,  foot 
(very  gingerly),  stick  again  and  then  again  a  game  at  all 
fours." 

Of  course,  to  an  experienced  Alpine  climber,  the  ascent  of 
Ben  Nevis  (it  is  only  a  little  over  four  thousand  feet  in 
height)  is  mere  child's  play  at  going  up  a  mountain.  But 
Keats  and  Brown,  accustomed  as  they  had  become  to 
tramping,  were  the  veriest  amateurs  at  mountaineering. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         67 

Remember,  too,  that  Keats  was  suffering  from  the  com- 
bined effects  of  a  bad  sore  throat  and  indigestion.  Re- 
member still  farther  that  he  was  already  a  prey  to  tuber- 
culosis, little  as  he,  or  any  one  else,  thought  so  at  the  time. 
If  we  steadily  keep  in  mind  these  things,  we  shall  quickly 
lose  all  desire  to  smile  at  his  and  Brown's  belief  that  in 
climbing  Ben  Nevis  they  were  performing  quite  a  feat;  on 
the  contrary,  seen  in  the  light  of  the  actual  circumstances, 
the  climb  becomes  tragic,  and  the  whirling  mists  which 
encompassed  them  on  their  way,  the  grey  wings  of  a 
hovering  doom. 

After  a  time,  the  mists  thinned  and  cleared,  but  still, 
every  now  and  then,  clouds  swept  over  the  mountain  and 
obscured  the  view.  To  Keats,  these  swirling  wreaths  of 
cloud  appeared  as 

"large  dome  curtains  which  kept  sailing  about,  opening 
and  shutting  at  intervals  here  and  there  and  everywhere: 
so  that  although  we  did  not  see  one  vast  wide  extent  of 
prospect  all  round  we  saw  something  perhaps  finer  —  these 
cloudveils  opening  with  a  dissolving  motion  and  showing 
us  the  mountainous  region  beneath  as  through  a  loophole 
—  these  cloudy  loopholes  ever  varying  and  discovering 
fresh  prospect  east,  west,  north  and  south.  Then  it  was 
misty  again,  and  again  it  was  fair  —  then  puff  came  a  cold 
breeze  of  wind  and  bared  a  craggy  chap  we  had  not  seen 
though  in  close  neighborhood.  Every  now  and  then  we  had 
overhead  blue  Sky  clear  and  the  sun  pretty  warm.n 

Keats  attempts  to  give  Tom  "an  Idea  of  the  prospect 
from  a  large  Mountain  top."  After  saying  that  the  summit 
seems  to  one  standing  upon  it  like  a  "stony  plain  which  of 
course  makes  you  forget  you  are  on  any  but  low  ground," 
he  proceeds  to  describe  what  he  saw  from  there  excellently, 
but  in  the  veriest  prose.  All  of  a  sudden  his  expression 
changes,  and  one  of  his  peculiar  spurts  of  imaginative 
presentation  gushes  over  him.  For  here  is  the  epitome  of 
his  sensations  at  the  moment,  in  the  last  phrase:  "but  the 


68  JOHN  KEATS 

most  new  thing  of  all  is  the  sudden  leap  of  the  eye  from  the 
extremity  of  what  appears  a  plain  into  so  vast  a  distance." 

At  the  top,  the  party  made  a  long  halt,  during  which  the 
guide,  to  whom  the  ascent  of  Ben  Nevis  was  an  every-day 
affair,  told  the  incredulous  friends  that,  only  a  few  years 
before,  a  Mrs.  Cameron,  "50  years  of  age  and  the  fattest 
woman  in  all  Invernesshire"  had  managed  to  get  up  the 
mountain.  "True  she  had  her  servants,"  says  Keats,  "  but 
then  she  had  herself." 

The  idea  of  the  portly  Mrs.  Cameron  being  pushed  and 
hauled  up  the  steep  track  which  he  and  Brown  had  mounted 
with  such  difficulty,  amused  Keats  greatly,  and  either  then 
and  there  on  the  mountain,  or  the  next  day  when  he  was 
writing  to  Tom,  he  scribbled  down  a  jocose  dialogue 
supposed  to  have  been  held  between  the  mountain  and  the 
lady  upon  her  arrival  at  the  top.  But  Keats  was  really 
impressed  by  the  grandeur  of  the  mountain  and  his 
glimpses  of  the  view.  Surely  here  was  a  place  which  must 
inspire  him !  The  result,  as  we  should  expect,  was  a  sonnet, 
and  by  no  means  a  bad  one,  considering  that  this  was  an 
occasional  piece  —  Keats  distinctly  tells  Tom  that  the 
sonnet  was  written  on  the  top  of  Ben  Nevis.  Its  marked 
importance,  however,  is  biographical,  for  it  shows  that  the 
speculations  on  the  meaning  of  life,  and  of  man's  supreme 
ignorance  on  the  subject,  those  speculations  with  which  we 
are  already  so  familiar,  were  still  very  actively  pursuing 
him.  He  had  reached  no  solution  of  the  riddle,  had  not 
found  even  a  working  hypothesis  of  the  kind  which 
commonly  goes  by  the  name  of  religion.  His  profound 
doubt  and  confusion  are  given  in  the  last  lines  of  the  Ben 
Nevis  sonnet  as  follows: 

11  Here  are  the  craggy  stones  beneath  my  feet,  — 
Thus  much  I  know  that,  a  poor  witless  elf, 

I  tread  on  them,  —  that  all  my  eye  doth  meet 
Is  mist  and  crag,  not  only  on  this  height, 
But  in  the  world  of  thought  and  mental  might!" 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND         69 

Going  down  the  mountain  proved  to  be  even  more 
wracking  than  climbing  up  it.  "I  felt  it  horribly,"  Keats 
tells  Tom.  "Twas  the  most  vile  descent  —  shook  me  all  to 
pieces. " 

After  such  an  exertion,  common-sense  should  have 
counselled  the  two  young  men  to  take  another  day  or  two's 
rest  at  Fort  William,  but  common-sense  seems  to  have 
deserted  them  at  this  juncture.  With  only  such  refresh- 
ment as  a  night's  sleep  could  give  them,  they  started  the 
next  day,  Monday,  August  third.  Sometime  on  that  day, 
they  stopped  at  Letterfinlay  (called  by  Keats  "Letter 
Findlay  "),  but  whether  or  not  they  passed  the  night  there 
it  is  impossible  to  tell.  All  that  we  know  definitely  of  this 
lap  of  the  journey  is  that  on  Thursday,  August  sixth, 
they  were  at  Inverness,  having  probably  got  there  the  day 
before. 

Keats  had  told  Tom  in  his  letter  of  August  third  from 
Letterfinlay,  that  his  sore  throat  was  getting  well,  but  if  he 
had  been  deceived  into  thinking  so,  he  had  found  out  his 
mistake  by  the  time  he  reached  Inverness.  So  bad  had  his 
throat  become,  in  fact,  that  he  went  to  see  a  doctor,  who 
told  him  at  once,  and  succinctly,  that  he  must  forego  the 
rest  of  the  trip  and  get  home  as  quickly  as  possible.  "Mr. 
Keats/'  writes  Brown  to  Mr.  Dilke  senior,  "is  too  unwell 
for  fatigue  and  privation  ...  He  caught  a  violent  cold  in 
the  Isle  of  Mull,  which,  far  from  leaving  him,  has  become 
worse,  and  the  physician  here  thinks  him  too  thin  and 
fevered  to  proceed  on  our  journey."  This  decision  must 
have  been  a  sudden  one  for,  on  August  sixth,  Keats  wrote 
to  Mrs.  Wylie,  and  in  that  letter  he  says  nothing  of  any 
immediate  return,  but  by  August  eighth  he  was  already 
on  his  way. 

Sometime  before  the  separation,  Keats  and  Brown 
visited  the  ruins  of  Beauly  Abbey.  At  that  time,  these 
ruins  were  used  as  a  burial  place,  and  one  very  badly  at- 
tended to,  it  would  seem,  as  the  young  men  were  struck  by 


70  JOHN  KEATS 

the  presence  of  a  heap  of  bones  and  skulls  which,  probably 
with  the  intentional  acquiescence  of  the  guide,  they  took 
to  be  those  of  ancient  monks.  With  this  idea  in  mind,  they 
wrote,  either  then  or  afterwards,  a  joint  poem  on  the  sub- 
ject, in  which  they  conjured  up  the  worthy  owners  of  the 
skulls  in  quite  an  amusing  fashion,  and  in  one  of  Burns's 
favourite  stanza  forms.  So  little  of  this  joint  production 
was  done  by  Keats,  however,  that  we  need  only  refer  to 
it  in  passing.1 

In  the  original  plan  of  the  trip,  Inverness  was  to  be  the 
turning  point  of  it.  Having  come  up  by  the  West  coast, 
the  pedestrians  had  intended  to  return  Southward  by  an 
entirely  different  route,  which  would  take  them  through 
Edinburgh  and  eventually  land  Keats  in  Cumberland, 
where  he  intended  to  stay  for  a  few  days  with  Bailey,  just 
settled  in  a  curacy  near  Carlisle.  We  may  surmise  that,  at 
the  bottom  of  his  heart,  Keats  was  not  sorry  to  be  ordered 
home  by  the  quickest  and  most  convenient  means.  How 
game  he  was,  how  anxious  to  "carry  on"  until  the  last 
moment,  can  be  seen  by  the  Beauly  excursion.  After  all, 
what  had  already  been  accomplished  was  prodigious. 
Keats  tells  Mrs.  Wylie  that  "  Besides  riding  about  400,  we 
have  walked  above  600  Miles."  He  is  evidently  counting 
from  his  start  from  London,  but  Brown  says  explicitly 
to  Mr.  Dilke;  "I  have  already  stumped  away  on  my  ten 
toes  642  miles." 

There  was  nowhere  that  a  direct  coach  to  London  could 
be  reached  short  of  Glasgow  or  Edinburgh;  even  of  what 
Gary2  calls  "provincial  coaches,"  there  were  none  as  far 
North  as  Inverness.  Horse-back  or  cart  were  the  only 
means  of  locomotion  to  be  had,  and  neither  could  be 
thought  of  for  Keats,  who  must  avoid  any  extra  fatigue. 

1  The  poem  is  printed  in  full  in  Sir  Sidney  Colvin's  Life  of  John  Keats. 
Third  Edition.  Appendix  II. 

2  Gary's  New  Itinerary  of  the  Great  Roads  throughout  England  and  Wales, 
with  many  of  the  Principal  Roads  of  Scotland.   1819. 


A  WALKING  TRIP  TO  SCOTLAND          71 

The  alternative  was  to  go  by  sea,  and  this  Keats  decided 
to  do.  A  Cromarty  smack,  calling  at  Inverness  on  her  way 
to  London,  offered  him  his  opportunity,  and  on  Saturday, 
August  eighth,  Keats  bade  good-bye  to  Brown,  who  was 
left  behind  to  continue  the  tour  as  per  schedule,  and  went 
on  board.  The  trip  was  over,  and  its  principal  benefits  to 
Keats  had  been  to  provide  him  with  a  bridge  between  the 
old  order  and  the  new,  to  give  him  Meg  Merrilies,  and  fill 
him  with  impressions  to  be  conjured  up  later  for  use  in 
Hyperion, 

So,  sailing  down  the  coast,  we  may  leave  him,  and  look 
for  a  little  while  at  events  in  Hampstead  which  preceded 
his  return. 


CHAPTER  IX 
SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT 

AT  first,  after  the  departure  of  his  brothers,  things  seemed 
to  go  well  with  Tom.  That  he  was  extremely  homesick, 
there  can  be  no  doubt.  On  the  very  day  that  the  travellers 
started,  Tom  was  minded  to  fulfil  a  commission  with 
which  John  had  entrusted  him.  This  was  to  write  to 
Taylor  and  ask  him  to  give  a  copy  of  Endymion  to  Severn, 
who  would  call  for  it.  Everyone  knows  that  the  first  acts 
of  a  person  left  behind  by  someone  who  is  going  on  a 
journey,  someone  whose  going  leaves  an  inevitable  blank, 
are  those  which  connect  him  with  the  departed.  For  Tom 
to  sit  down  at  once  and  write  John's  request  to  Taylor, 
is  a  proof  of  the  extent  of  his  homesickness.  Another  proof 
lies  in  the  fact  that  on  certain  of  John's  letters  to  Tom 
from  Scotland,  Tom  indorsed  the  date  when  the  letter  was 
received  and  the  date  on  which  it  was  answered.  He  prob- 
ably did  this  on  all  the  letters,  but  in  many  instances  the 
indorsement  has  not  come  down  to  us.  In  those  cases  where 
it  has,  however,  Tom  answered  the  letter  on  the  day  that 
he  received  it.  The  day  before  he  left  for  Scotland,  Keats 
had  written  to  Taylor,  and,  among  other  things,  had 
asked  a  loan  of  books  for  Tom.  How  eagerly  Tom  longed 
for  the  books,  and  yet  how  much  he  feared  that  John's 
request  for  them  had  smacked  of  the  importunate,  can  be 
seen  by  this  wistful  little  postscript  to  his  letter  to  Taylor: 

1  "On  consideration  it  strikes  me  that  you  will  not  be 
able  to  let  me  have  books  to  read  —  your  stock  being  as  I 
should  think  mostly  new  and  modern  books." 

But  Taylor  was  a  thoroughly  good  fellow,  and  he  had 
Woodhouse  at  his  elbow  to  egg  him  on.   On  Tuesday  eve- 

1  From  the  original  unpublished  letter.  Author's  Collection. 


74  JOHN  KEATS 

ning,  June  thirtieth,  Tom  wrote  again l  thanking  him  for 
"  the  parcel  of  books/'  and  saying  that  he  likes  " '  Eustace's 
Tour'  very  much,  and  should  be  glad  of  the  other  books 
you  have  mentioned."  On  this  day,  he  had  just  received 
John's  first  letter,  and  had  sent  it  off  on  a  round  of  in- 
spection beginning  with  Reynolds.  That  Keats's  friends 
did  their  best  for  the  lonely  Tom,  we  know;  Haslam  seems 
to  have  been  particularly  kind,  and  Wells,  although  his 
attentions  took  a  mischievous  and  even  cruel  turn,  was, 
very  likely,  merely  trying  to  amuse  his  sick  friend.  I  shall 
tell  the  story  of  his  grievous  "joke"  presently.  Sometime 
during  the  Summer,  Tom  Keats  wrote  the  following  note 
to  Dilke.  Since  we  have  so  little  knowledge  of  the  Hamp- 
stead  side  of  the  Summer,  and  since  the  note  pictures 
Tom's  condition  so  sharply  —  his  alternate  good  and  bad 
days,  his  constant  intention  toward  cheerfulness  —  it 
should,  I  think,  be  given  here. 

2  "Mv  DEAR  DILKE. 

I  am  really  concerned  that  you  should  be  so  ill  as  Mrs. 
Bentley  reports  this  morning.  Could  you  and  Mrs.  Dilke 
come  out  again,  you  would  be  sure  to  find  me  out  of  bed  — 
sick  people  are  supposed  to  have  delicate  stomachs,  for  my 
part  I  should  like  a  slice  of  underdone  surloin.  I  have  sent 
you  a  trifle  of  fruit  —  the  cherries  are  not  so  fine  as  I  could 
wish.  I  hear  London  is  full  of  the  bowel  complaint  —  has 
it  not  reached  Hampstead? 

Yours  truly, 
THOS.  KEATS." 

The  letter  is  dated  merely  "Tuesday  morning,"  so  we 
have  only  the  cherries  to  guide  us  as  to  the  month,  but  by 
their  evidence  I  think  we  may  suppose  the  note  to  belong 
either  to  the  very  end  of  June  or  to  the  early  part  of  July. 
From  the  tone  of  it,  it  seems  as  though  John  had  been  gone 

1  Unpublished  letter.  Author's  Collection. 

1  Original  unpublished  letter  in  the  possession  of  the  Keats  Memorial 
Association.  Hampstead,  England. 


TOM  KEATS 

From  an  <>n<jr<irin<j  of  a  irnlvr-colonr  d'ctch  hi/  Joseph  Serem.  hi  the 
jtoswwion  of  Mix*  I 'a  nut/  Spent  Mac  Dona  Id,  yreat 
oj  (jt'orye  K«ifx 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  75 

some  time.  The  reference  to  the  sirloin  is  a  terrible  re- 
minder of  the  debilitating  diet  which  medical  ignorance 
prescribed  for  tuberculous  patients  at  that  period,  so  add- 
ing the  tortures  of  hunger  to  all  the  other  sufferings  they 
had  to  bear.  We  shall  have  occasion  to  notice  this  again 
when  we  come  to  Keats's  days  in  Rome.  Illness  breathes 
in  every  word  of  Tom's  letter,  but  plucky  illness,  illness 
possessed  of  a  fighting  spirit  which  will  give  way  inch  by 
inch  as  it  must,  but  will  yield  no  inch  without  a  struggle. 
Early  in  August,  Tom  became  much  worse,  so  much 
worse  that  the  doctor  urged  Dilke  to  send  for  John.  Writ- 
ing to  her  father-in-law  on  Sunday,  August  sixteenth,  Mrs. 
Dilke  tells  the  story: 

1  "John  Keats's  brother  is  extremely  ill,  and  the  doctor 
begged  that  his  brother  might  be  sent  for.  Dilke  accord- 
ingly wrote  to  him,  which  was  a  very  unpleasant  task. 
However,  from  the  journal  received  from  Brown  last 
Friday,  he  says  Keats  has  been  so  long  ill  with  his  sore 
throat,  that  he  is  obliged  to  give  up.  I  am  rather  glad  of  it, 
as  he  will  not  receive  the  letter,  which  might  have  frightened 
him  very  much,  as  he  is  extremely  fond  of  his  brother. 
How  poor  Brown  will  get  on  alone  I  know  not,  as  he  loses 
a  cheerful,  good-tempered,  clever  companion." 

So  the  clouds  hung  heavy  over  Keats's  destiny,  and  bided 
their  time  while  the  Cromarty  smack  pursued  her  leisurely 
way  down  the  coast.  But  this  was  not  all,  mutterings  of 
another  storm  were  in  the  air,  and  the  inevitable  bursting 
of  it  was  anxiously  awaited  by  the  forewarned  Taylor  and 
his  confidants,  Hessey  and  Woodhouse.  The  warning  had 
come  to  Taylor  as  follows:  So  early  as  May,  Taylor  had 
taken  the  precaution,  wise  or  unwise,  of  calling  upon 
GifFord,  the  editor  of  the  Quarterly ?  to  plead  for  fair  play 
for  the  newly  published  Endymion,  to  beg  that  the  book, 
simply  because  its  author  happened  to  be  a  friend  of  Leigh 

1  Papers  of  a  Critic,  by  Sir  Charles  Wentworth  Dilke. 

1  Colvin.  From  information  supplied  by  a  great-niece  of  Taylor's. 


76  JOHN  KEATS 

Hunt's,  should  not  be  treated  in  a  spirit  of  political  ran- 
cour, but  simply  as  a  poem,  a  work  of  imagination,  with  no 
political  bias  at  all.  Early  as  he  was  in  taking  this  step, 
Taylor  was  too  late,  for  on  Gifford's  table  lay  a  review 
of  the  book.  Gifford  was  polite  and  non-committal,  but 
Taylor  carried  away  from  the  interview  small  hope  that 
the  review,  which  was  not  shown  him,  would  be  lenient. 
Whether  Taylor  communicated  his  fears  to  any  of  Keats's 
more  immediate  friends,  such  as  Reynolds,  whom  Taylor 
constantly  saw,  we  do  not  know.  It  is  certain,  however, 
that  whether  they  knew  of  this  particular  instance  or  not, 
the  situation  could  have  been,  and  probably  was,  correctly 
postulated  by  all.  In  the  case  of  one,  we  have  his  own 
word  for  it,  and  for  the  blunder  his  fear  of  the  consequences 
to  Keats  led  him  into.  The  story  of  Bailey's  meeting  with 
Lockhart  at  Bishop  Gleig's  house  in  Scotland  has  often 
been  told,  but  the  letter  to  Taylor1  in  which  he  recounts  it 
has  never  been  printed  before.  The  letter  was  written  at 
Carlisle,  and  dated  "August  29,  1818." 
This  is  what  Bailey  says: 

"  I  have  something  to  tell  you  respecting  Endymion :  but  it 
must  be  in  your  ear:  That  is,  I  do  not  wish  it  to  be  re- 
peated to  Keats,  it  being  my  determination  to  do  him  all 
the  good  I  can  without  creating  mischief.  I  fear  Endymion 
will  be  dreadfully  cut  up  in  the  Edinburgh  Magazine 
(Blackwood's).  I  met  a  man  in  Scotland  who  is  concerned 
in  that  publication,  &  who  abused  poor  Keats  in  a  way 
that,  although  it  was  at  the  Bishop's  table,  I  could  hardly 
keep  my  tongue.  I  said  that  I  supposed  he  would  be 
attacked  in  Blackwood's.  He  replied  'not  by  me'-,  which 
would  convey  the  insinuation  he  would  be  by  someone 
else.  The  objections,  he  stated,  were  frivolous  in  the 
extreme.  They  chiefly  respected  the  rhymes.  But  I  feel 
convinced  now  the  Poem  will  not  sell ;  &  I  fear  his  future 
writings  will  not.  In  Scotland  he  is  very  much  despised 
from  what  I  could  collect/' 

1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Collection. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  77 

What  had  really  happened,  I  take  from  another  manuscript 
in  the  Woodhouse  Book,  Morgan  Library.  Bailey,  with 
the  best  intentions,  undertook  to  tell  Lockhart  a  few  facts 
of  Keats 's  life,  among  others  that  he  was  "of  a  respectable 
family;  &  though  he  &  his  brothers  &  sister  were  orphans, 
they  were  left  with  a  small  but  independent  Patrimony. 
He  had  been  brought  up  to  the  profession  of  medicine 
which  he  had  abandoned  for  the  pursuit  of  Literature." 
He  was  also  careful  to  assure  Lockhart  that  Hunt  had  had 
no  hand  in  Endymion.  What  this  innocuous  information 
brought  forth,  the  malicious  twist  by  which  it  was  made  to 
argue  in  Keats's  disfavour,  utterly  confounded  Bailey 
when  he  read  the  review,  and  no  wonder. 

While  all  this  awaited  Keats,  he  was  having  a  not  un- 
pleasant rest  in  the  smack,  eating  hugely  of  beef  (Scotch 
porridge,  consumed  with  horn  spoons,  he  could  not  stom- 
ach) and  chatting  with  the  other  passengers,  amused  to 
find  himself  the  only  Englishman.  This  was,  so  far  as  is 
known,  his  first  experience  of  a  ship  and  of  the  open  sea, 
and  the  latter  must  have  impressed  him  as  the  perfect 
complement  to  the  mountains  he  had  been  seeing,  but 
we  have  only  a  few  words  from  him  about  the  voyage. 
Events  at  Hampstead,  when  he  reached  it,  were  such  as 
to  throw  his  experiences  during  his  trip  into  the  back- 
ground. 

On  Monday,  August  seventeenth,  the  Cromarty  smack 
docked  at  the  London  Docks,  and  Keats  set  out  at  once  for 
Hampstead.  Mrs.  Dilke,  who  saw  him  immediately  upon 
his  arrival,  describes  his  appearance  thus: 

1  "John  Keats  arrived  here  last  night,  as  brown  and  as 
shabby  as  you  can  imagine;  scarcely  any  shoes  left,  his 
jacket  all  torn  at  the  back,  a  fur  cap,  a  great  plaid,  and  his 
knapsack.  I  cannot  tell  what  he  look'd  like." 

Mrs.  Dilke's  letter  is  dated  on  the  nineteenth,  and  Keats, 

1  Papers  of  a  Critic,  by  Sir  Charles  Wentworth  Dilke. 


78  JOHN  KEATS 

writing  to  his  sister  in  a  letter  which  he  dates  "August 
18th,"  says:  "We  had  a  nine  days  passage  and  were  landed 
at  London  Bridge  yesterday."  There  would  seem  to  be 
some  mistake  here,  and,  with  Keats's  usual  vagueness  as  to 
the  day  of  the  month  in  mind,  I  think  it  quite  probable 
that  the  fault  is  his.  This  difference  of  dates  does,  however, 
leave  the  exact  day  of  Keats's  docking  hung  in  a  balance, 
and  I  have  preferred  to  let  his  date  stand. 

Things  were  very  black  for  Keats  on  his  return  to  Hamp- 
stead.  The  sea  voyage  had  done  him  good,  but  his  throat 
was  still  badly  inflamed,  and  in  this  state  he  was  settling 
down  to  nurse  the  dying  Tom;  for  by  that  time  all  hope 
of  Tom's  ultimate  recovery  had  been  abandoned,  it  was 
merely  a  question  of  time.  John's  first  duty  was  to  write 
and  apprise  Fanny  of  the  change  in  Tom.  This  letter,  and 
others  written  during  the  Autumn,  are  tragic  with  im- 
plication. John  is  always  going  to  ask  Abbey  to  let  Fanny 
come  and  see  Tom,  and  Abbey's  reluctance  to  permit  this 
is  taken  for  granted.  Abbey's  attitude  was  barbarous 
and  unfeeling  in  the  extreme,  for  we  cannot  suppose  that 
any  hygienic  consideration  entered  into  his  calculations. 
He  had  simply  made  up  his  mind  that  the  brothers  were  a 
wild  couple,  and  should  be  kept  as  much  away  from  their 
sister  as  possible.  Gross  prejudice  dictated  his  opinion,  of 
course;  but,  as  Keats's  circle  of  acquaintances  and  Abbey's 
had  no  single  point  of  contact,  there  was  no  one  who  could 
enlighten  him. 

It  was  unfortunate  for  Keats  that,  before  he  had  been  a 
fortnight  at  Hampstead,  Reynolds  went  off  to  stay  either 
with,  or  near,  the  Drew  family  in  Devonshire.  For  Keats 
needed  his  friends  just  then,  or  rather  a  few  days  later, 
when,  with  the  appearance  of  the  August  number  of 
Blackwood's  containing  the  fourth  article  on  The  Cockney 
School  of  Poetry  y  the  delaying  storm  of  Scotch  criticism 
and  vituperation  burst  upon  him  in  full  fury.  This  fourth 
paper  was  devoted  entirely  to  Keats,  and  to  make  this 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  79 

quite  clear  at  the  outset,  the  original  motto  of  the  series1 

was  truncated  to  its  last  three  lines,  beginning" of 

Keats,"  etc. 

Although  the  story  of  the  Blackwood  and  Quarterly 
articles  has  so  often  been  told,  I  must,  perforce,  re-tell  it 
here,  but  I  will  do  so  as  briefly  as  possible. 

In  order  to  understand  the  situation,  we  must  realize 
that,  in  Keats's  day,  the  great  reviews  were  really  organs 
of  a  party.  In  our  time,  it  is  chiefly  the  daily  papers  and 
the  weekly  publications  which  parade  a  special  political 
bias,  but  even  these  never  dream  of  carrying  party  feeling 
into  the  matter  of  book  reviews.  It  is  safe  to  say  that,  in 
this  country,  at  least,  an  author's  political  opinions  are  no 
bar  to  his  receiving  a  fair  consideration  in  any  paper  what- 
ever, except,  of  course,  when  his  work  is  a  purely  political 
one.  Prejudice  exists,  naturally,  but  it  is  a  prejudice  of 
individual  critics,  and  since  even  critics  are  human  and 
possessed  of  personal  frailties,  it  could  not  be  otherwise. 
But  the  frailest  and  most  irascible  of  reviewers  is  free  of 
the  charge  of  measuring  his  praise  or  blame  according  to 
his  author's  party  leanings.  It  was  quite  otherwise  in  the 
England  of  George  the  third,  and  remained  so  for  a  long 
time  afterwards.  Curiously  enough,  the  most  important 
reviews  were  in  the  hands  of  Scotchmen,  although  one  of 
them  was  published  in  London.  These  were  the  Edinburgh 
Review  of  which  Constable  was  the  proprietor  and  Francis 
Jeffrey  the  editor;  and  the  Quarterly,  owned  by  John 
Murray  and  published  in  London,  the  editor  being  William 
Gifford.  The  Edinburgh  was  Whig,  the  Quarterly  Tory, 
and  each  was  what  it  was  to  the  last  ditch.  Early  in  1817, 
William  Blackwood,  an  enterprising  bookseller  in  Edin- 
burgh and  a  Tory,  conceived  the  idea  of  issuing  a  new 
monthly  magazine  which  should  be  at  once  a  spoke  in  the 
wheel  of  his  rival  Constable,  on  the  spot,  and  show  a  more 
active  fighting  spirit  than  the  expatriated  Quarterly.  The 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  518. 


80  JOHN  KEATS 

magazine  was  launched  under  the  title  of  the  Edinburgh 
New  Monthly  Magazine,  but  the  editors  were  incompetent, 
and  after  six  months  Blackwood  dismissed  them  and  re- 
organized the  magazine  with  his  own  name  on  the  title. 
For  new  editors,  talent  stood  ready  to  his  hand  in  the  per- 
sons of  two  very  clever  and  astonishingly  unscrupulous 
young  men,  John  Wilson  and  John  Gibson  Lockhart. 
Wilson  was  the  son  of  a  rich  Glasgow  merchant,  and  an 
Oxford  graduate,  but  things  had  gone  ill  with  him  and 
he  was,  when  Blackwood  sought  him  out,  at  odds  with 
fortune,  as  far  as  money  was  concerned.  Lockhart  came 
of  an  old  Lanarkshire  family;  he  was  only  twenty-three, 
but  thought  himself  one  hundred  on  the  strength  of  an 
Oxford  degree  and  a  stay  of  some  weeks  in  Weimar  where 
he  had  met  Goethe  and  made  one  of  his  circle.  This  was 
a  great  experience,  certainly,  and  Lockhart  should  have 
imbibed  much  wisdom;  but  what  he  seems  chiefly  to  have 
carried  back  to  his  native  Scotland  was  an  unblushing 
arrogance,  and  a  profound  scorn  for  any  one  who  could 
not  read  Greek  and  Latin  and  was  unacquainted  with 
current  German  literature.  Each  of  these  promising 
youths  was  possessed  of  the  gift  of  satire,  together  with  a 
style  pleasantly  composed  of  gall  and  vitriol,  and  each  was 
totally  lacking  in  imagination  and  taste.  They  were  de- 
lighted to  run  riot  and  did,  and  by  doing  so  stamped  them- 
selves forever  as  first-class  cads  in  the  eyes  of  all  posterity. 
Even  Lockhart,  the  middle-aged  Lockhart,  beloved  son- 
in-law  of  Sir  Walter  Scott  and  author  of  the  monumental 
Life  of  Scott,  can  never  free  himself  from  the  stain  of  the 
Cockney  School  articles  to  any  one  who  has  read  them.  No 
words  can  exaggerate  their  unseemly  and  disgusting  qual- 
ity; even  when  laughing  at  their  jejune  overstatements, 
wondering  how  a  great  reading  nation  like  the  British 
could  have  taken  these  ravings  seriously,  we  cannot  escape 
the  loathing  such  writing  engenders.  I  wish  I  had  space  in 
this  book  to  give  all  four  of  the  Cockney  School  articles 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  81 

in  an  appendix,  but  that  cannot  be;  yet  I  strongly 
counsel  my  readers  to  seek  them  out  and  read  them, 
for  no  adequate  idea  of  them  can  be  gained  by  any  para- 
phrase. 

To  make  matters  worse,  and  show  that  these  cocksure, 
brilliant,  and  exceedingly  stupid  young  men  were  also 
cowards,  that  each  had  what  the  slang  of  to-day  calls  a 
"yellow  streak,"  they  signed  the  articles  "Z"  and  refused 
to  give  their  names  when  challenged  to  do  so  by  Leigh  Hunt 
in  the  pages  of  the  Examiner.  The  whole  transaction  is 
one  of  the  most  lamentable  in  literary  history.  According 
to  Dilke,  Lockhart  sincerely  repented  later,  but  not  until 
much  later;  for  the  sorriest  part  of  the  business  was  the 
carrying  on  of  the  vulgar  quarrel,  after  Keats's  death,  in  a 
review  of  Shelley's  Adonais.  What  can  we  think  of  men 
who,  under  the  circumstances,  could  write  and  print  the 
following? 

"The  present  story  is  thus:  A  Mr.  John  Keats,  a  young 
man  who  had  left  a  decent  calling  for  the  melancholy  trade 
of  Cockney-poetry,  has  lately  died  of  a  consumption,  after 
having  written  two  or  three  little  books  of  verses,  much 
neglected  by  the  public.  His  vanity  was  probably  wrung 
not  less  than  his  purse;  for  he  had  it  upon  the  authority  of 
the  Cockney  Homers  and  Virgils,  that  he  might  become  a 
light  to  their  region  at  a  future  time.  But  all  this  is  not 
necessary  to  help  a  consumption  to  the  death  of  a  poor 
sedentary  man,  with  an  unhealthy  aspect,  and  a  mind 
harassed  by  the  first  troubles  of  versemaking.  The  New 
School,  however,  will  have  it  that  he  was  slaughtered  by  a 
criticism  of  the  Quarterly  Review.  —  'O  flesh,  how  art 
thou  fishified ! '  —  ...  We  are  not  now  to  defend  a  publi- 
cation so  well  able  to  defend  itself.  But  the  fact  is,  that  the 
Quarterly  finding  before  it  a  work  at  once  silly  and  pre- 
sumptuous, full  of  the  servile  slang  that  Cockaigne  dictates 
to  its  servitors,  and  the  vulgar  indecorums  which  that 
Grub  Street  Empire  rejoiceth  to  applaud,  told  the  truth  of 
the  volume,  and  recommended  a  change  of  manners  and 
masters  to  the  scribbler.  Keats  wrote  on;  but  he  wrote 


82  JOHN  KEATS 

indecently,  probably  in  the  indulgence  of  his  social  pro- 
pensities." 

And  this  of  a  dead  man ! 

The  article  ends,  after  treating  Shelley's  poem  as  only 
they  could  treat  it,  with  a  parody  of  Adonais  entitled 
Elegy  on  my  Tom  Cat,  which  begins: 

"Weep  for  my  Tomcat!  all  ye  Tabbies  weep, 

For  he  is  gone  at  last!  Not  dead  alone, 
In  flowery  beauty  sleepeth  he  no  sleep ; 
Like  that  bewitching  youth  Endymion!" 

Youth  is  no  excuse  for  such  a  thing  as  this.  The  men  who 
could  write  and  conceive  it  were  ruffians  at  heart  without 
a  spark  of  decent  feeling.  But  this  was  long  after.  I  have 
quoted  the  passage  here  because  in  no  other  so  fully  —  no, 
not  even  in  the  vile  and  shameless  remarks  on  Leigh  Hunt 
in  the  first  three  papers  of  the  Cockney  series  —  do  Wilson 
and  Lockhart  reveal  what  they  really  were. 

The  chief  reason  for  the  Wilson-Lockhart  dislike  of 
Keats  was  that  he  was  known  to  be  a  friend  of  Hunt's. 
Hunt  was  detested  for  several  reasons.  Possibly  his  slight- 
ing treatment  of  Scott  in  his  satire  on  contemporary 
writers,  The  Feast  of  the  Poets,  had  something  to  do  with  it, 
for  Scott  was  idolized  by  both  men;  but,  without  that,  the 
political  attitude  of  the  Examiner  and  Hunt's  lack  of  re- 
pentance for  his  plain  speaking  about  the  Prince  of  Wales,1 
even  after  being  jailed  on  account  of  it,  were  enough  to  in- 
cur their  hatred.  Hunt  was  to  be  smashed  at  all  costs;  and 
Keats,  as  his  friend,  was  to  be  cleverly  chipped,  if  nothing 
more. 

The  chipping  process  began  almost  at  the  opening  of 
the  review,  where  the  reader  was  informed  that 

"The  Phrenzy  of  the  'Poems'  was  bad  enough  in  its 
way;  but  it  did  not  alarm  us  half  so  seriously  as  the  calm, 
'  settled,  imperturbable  drivelling  idiocy  of  -  Endymion.1 " 

i  See  Vol.  I,  p.  65. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  83 

That  started  things  with  a  good  slap,  and  "Z"  proceeded, 
quite  innocently  and  merrily,  to  give  himself  away,  for, 
after  a  sneering  comment  or  two  on  the  Poems,  he  remarks 
of  Endymion: 

"The  old  story  of  the  moon  falling  in  love  with  a 
shepherd,  so  prettily  told  by  a  Roman  Classic,  and  so 
exquisitely  enlarged  and  adorned  by  one  of  the  most 
elegant  of  German  poets,  has  been  seized  upon  by  Mr. 
John  Keats,  to  be  done  with  as  might  seem  good  unto  the 
sickly  fancy  of  one  who  never  read  a  single  line  either  of 
Ovid  or  of  Wieland." 

O  Lockhart!  Lockhart!  Aged  twenty-three!  With  what 
a  proud  and  strutting  air  you  deployed  your  erudition! 
And  notice  that  none  of  the  English  poets  who  treated  of 
the  tale  are  called  upon.  Indeed,  no!  Lockhart  was  at  the 
stage  when  the  exotic  is  of  inestimable  worth.  Latin,  the 
Gentleman's  tongue  —  Wieland,  German  literature,  the 
latest  craze  of  travelled  youth  —  closed  books  both  to  the 
middle  classes.  Keats  had  read  Ovid,  even  in  the  original, 
but  Lockhart  chose  to  believe  otherwise.  Mr.  twenty- three- 
years-old,  travelled-into-Germany-and-back  John  Gibson 
Lockhart,  and  blustering,  devil-take-the-hindmost  coad- 
jutor Wilson,  sized  the  book  up  at  once: 

"His  Endymion  is  not  a  Greek  shepherd,  loved  by  a 
Grecian  goddess;  he  is  merely  a  young  Cockney  rhymester, 
dreaming  a  phantastic  dream  at  the  full  of  the  moon." 

This  was  malice,  but  "Z"  was  intelligently  enough  versed 
in  the  Greek  classics  to  make  one  true  observation.  "As 
for  Mr.  Keats'  'Endymion/"  he  says,  "it  has  just  as  much 
to  do  with  Greece  as  it  has  with  'old  Tartary  the  fierce/" 
"Z"  meant  this  as  animadversion,  but  we  can  see  it  in 
quite  a  different  light.  I  have  already  dealt  with  this 
question  in  the  chapter  on  Endymion.1 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  346. 


84  JOHN  KEATS 

There  is  much  quotation  in  the  article,  and  much 
ridicule  is  showered  on  the  poem;  but  the  most  objection- 
able parts  of  it  are  the  personal  reflections,  for  instance: 

"Mr.  Hunt  is  a  small  poet,  but  he  is  a  clever  man.  Mr. 
Keats  is  a  still  smaller  poet,  and  he  is  only  a  boy  of  pretty 
abilities,  which  he  has  done  everything  in  his  power  to 
spoil/1 

In  one  place,  Keats  is  addressed  as  "good  Johnny  Keats/' 
a  nomenclature  which  brought  from  George,  long  after,1 
the  indignant  observation:  "John  . . .  was  as  much  like 
the  holy  Ghost  as  Johnny  Keats"  But  the  crowning  exploit 
of  the  review  was  the  last  paragraph: 

"And  now,  good-morrow  to  'the  Muses'  son  of  Promise' 
. . .  We  venture  to  make  one  small  prophecy,  that  his  book- 
seller will  not  a  second  time  venture  £50  upon  anything  he 
can  write.  It  is  a  better  and  a  wiser  thing  to  be  a  starved 
apothecary  than  a  starved  poet;  so  back  to  the  shop  Mr. 
John,  back  to  'plasters,  pills,  and  ointment  boxes,'  &c. 
But,  for  Heaven's  sake,  young  Sangrado,  be  a  little  more 
sparing  of  extenuatives  and  soporifics  in  your  practice  than 
you  have  been  with  your  poetry." 

The  wanton  cruelty  of  that  passage  is  extraordinary.  All 
three  of  the  principals,  Blackwood,  Lockhart,  and  Wilson, 
were  out  for  notoriety;  the  new  monthly  must  make  itself 
noticed  by  fair  means  or  foul,  and  this  sort  of  thing  pro- 
duced attention.  Yet  there  were  protests.  Blackwood's 
London  agents  objected  to  the  "Z"  articles,  and  the  pub- 
lisher had  to  lie  himself  into  their  good  graces  again. 
Murray,  who  had  taken  an  interest  in  the  magazine,  with- 
drew his  money.  Yet  still  the  trio  kept  on.  Even  the  tragic 
death  of  John  Scott  in  a  duel  with  Christie  (a  duel  which 
was  the  outgrowth  of  Scott's  reiterated  protests  against 
the  scurrilities  of  Maga),  early  in  1821,  had  little  effect. 

1  Letter  from  George  Keats  to  Dilke.  April  29,  1825.  Author's  Collec- 
tion. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  85 

The  Adonais  review,  the  most  abominable  of  all,  appeared 
in  the  number  for  December,  1821.  As  to  the  question  of 
the  authorship  of  the  "Z"  articles,  beyond  the  fact  that 
they  were  probably  written  by  one  young  man  and  touched 
up  by  the  other,  and  that  each  in  turn  played  critic  to  the 
other's  composition,  we  cannot  go.  But  this  fourth  Cock- 
ney School  paper  contains  such  obvious  traces  of  Lockhart's 
hand  that  he  certainly  must  have  had  a  chief  part  in  it. 
Sir  Sidney  Colvin  has  pointed  out  that  both  the  word 
"Sangrado,"  taken  from  Le  Sage's  Gil  Elasy  and  the  al- 
lusion to  Wieland's  Endymion  point  clearly  to  him,  partic- 
ularly the  latter,  since  although  Wieland's  Oberon  was 
known  to  English  readers  through  Sotheby's  translation,  no 
one  connected  with  Blackwood's  Edinburgh  Magazine  is  at 
all  likely  to  have  known  anything  of  his  untranslated  minor 
works  except  Lockhart,  whose  sojourn  at  Weimar  had  at 
least  familiarized  him  with  contemporary  German  poetry. 
Late  in  September,  the  April  number  of  the  Quarterly 
appeared,  and  in  it  was  the  paper  which  Taylor  had  seen 
lying  on  Gifford's  tatle  four  months  earlier.  Gifford, 
whom  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  aptly  calls  "the  acrid  and  de- 
formed pedant  Gifford,"  was  an  implacable  partizan,  con- 
servative and  narrow  in  his  outlook  on  literature;  entirely 
given  over  to  the  good  old  way  in  everything.  The  man  to 
whom  he  had  consigned  Endymion  for  review,  is  now 
known  to  have  been  John  Wilson  Croker,  as  hide-bound 
a  formalist  as  himself.  No  man  less  capable  of  understand- 
ing the  fresh  luxuriance  of  Endymion  could  have  been 
found.  The  result  was  as  might  have  been  expected. 
The  Quarterly  article  (unsigned,  by  the  way;  these  prudent 
champions  of  the  good  old  way  preferred  to  let  off  their 
blunderbusses  behind  the  safe  screen  of  anonymity)  began 
with  a  frank  admission  that  the  author  of  it  had  been  un- 
able to  read  beyond  the  First  Book  of  Endymion,  of  which 
he  could  make  neither  head  nor  tail.  The  second  paragraph 
ingratiatingly  continued: 


86  JOHN  KEATS 

11  It  is  not  that  Mr.  Keats,  (if  that  be  his  real  name,  for 
we  almost  doubt  that  any  man  in  his  senses  would  put  his 
real  name  to  such  a  rhapsody,)  it  is  not,  we  say,  that  the 
author  has  not  powers  of  language,  rays  of  fancy,  and 
gleams  of  genius  —  he  has  all  these;  but  he  is  unhappily  a 
disciple  of  the  new  school  of  what  has  been  somewhere 
called  Cockney  poetry;  which  may  be  defined  to  consist  of 
the  most  incongruous  ideas  in  the  most  uncouth  language." 

So  the  door  was  opened  a  crack  and  the  skeleton  peeped 
through.  The  Tory  feared  the  Whig.  The  great  Tory 
publishing  house  of  Murray  feared  the  slightest  spark  of 
Whigism  so  much  that  through  its  mouthpiece,  the  long- 
established  Tory  organ,  the  Quarterly,  it  could  stoop  to 
crush  a  young  poet's  honest  work,  and  in  so  doing  incon- 
venience the  small  but  tenacious  firm  of  Taylor  and  Hessey. 
Taking  Keats's  Preface,  Croker  turned  Keats's  pathetic 
humility  into  a  petard  for  his  own  hoisting.  The  poet  him- 
self acknowledged  the  book  to  be  immature;  he  was  young 
and  hoped  to  do  better  —  his  own  words  convicted  him ! 
Croker  was  merciless.  His  literary  gods  were  assailed. 
"There  is  hardly  a  complete  couplet  enclosing  a  complete 
idea  in  the  whole  book,"  the  scandalized  pedant  roared. 
This  was  intolerable,  and  he  proceeded  to  quote  and  quote 
again;  to  string  up  rhymes  of  which  he  did  not  approve, 
for  ridicule;  to  point  out  lines  whose  scansion  eluded  his 
metronomic  ear;  to  list  Keats's  verbal  inventions  and  make 
fun  of  them;  in  short,  to  prove,  with  the  infinite  cunning 
of  unrelated  lines,  phrases,  and  words,  that  the  poem  was 
an  utterly  foolish  and  contemptible  bit  of  childish  effront- 
ery. Not  once  was  he  honest  enough  to  give  a  single  ex- 
ample of  the  merits  he  had  admitted:  powers  of  language, 
rays  of  fancy,  gleams  of  genius.  These  were  left  with 
their  bare  mention.  The  paper  ended  as  it  began,  with  a 
sneer: 

"If  any  one  should  be  bold  enough  to  purchase  this 
'Poetic  Romance/  and  so  much  more  patient,  than  our- 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  87 

selves,  as  to  get  beyond  the  first  book,  and  so  much  more 
fortunate  as  to  find  a  meaning,  we  entreat  him  to  make  us 
acquainted  with  his  success;  we  shall  then  return  to  the 
task  which  we  now  abandon  in  despair,  and  endeavour  to 
make  all  due  amends  to  Mr.  Keats  and  to  our  readers." 

It  will  at  once  be  seen  that  the  Quarterly,  while  not  de- 
scending to  the  unpardonable  personalities  which  dis- 
graced Blackwood's,  had  in  reality  published  the  more 
dangerous  article.  The  excesses  of  Blackwood's,  the  tone  of 
the  whole  review,  these  things  could  not  help  but  carry 
their  own  antidotes  with  them.  Evident  malice  can  — 
nay,  must  —  be,  in  a  measure,  discounted.  Irony,  on  the 
other  hand,  has  no  button  on  its  foil.  And  the  Quarterly 
had  put  its  finger  on  a  real  weakness.  Keats's  versification 
was  not  always  beyond  reproach,  his  coinings  were  not 
always  felicitous  and  there  were  too  many  of  them.  The 
Quarterly  could  not  be  entirely  disagreed  with,  all  that 
could  be  said  was  that  there  was  another  side  which 
Croker  would  not  —  indeed,  I  think,  could  not  —  see. 

A  third  review,  in  some  ways  the  worst  of  the  three,  had 
come  out  in  the  June  number  of  the  British  Critic,  but,  con- 
sidering the  dilatory  appearance  of  periodicals  in  those 
days,  Keats  probably  did  not  see  it  until  his  return  from 
Scotland.  Of  this  publication,  its  conductors  and  point  of 
view,  that  compendium  of  useful  knowledge,  Leigh's  New 
Picture  of  London,  1819,  says:  "This  work  is  conducted  by 
persons  of  the  established  church,  and  on  the  orthodox 
principles  of  that  respectable  body."  The  author  of  the 
review  of  Endymion  is  unknown,  of  his  quality  we  can  guess 
by  a  couple  of  quotations.  His  charming  method  of  deal- 
ing with  the  poem  is  to  tell  the  story,  interpolating  in  his 
text  various  expressions  taken  from  Keats  which  he  dis- 
likes, thus  making  the  whole  read  as  nonsensically  as 
possible;  and  to  this  form  of  ridicule  he  adds  such  judicious 
comments  as  his  natural  refinement  suggests.  Here  is  an 
illustration,  the  parentheses  are  his: 


88  JOHN  KEATS 

"it  seems  that  one  evening  when  the  sun  had  done  driv- 
ing 'his  snorting  four/  'there  blossom 'd  suddenly  a  magic 
bed  of  sacred  ditamy,'  (Qu.  dimity?)  and  he  looked  up  to 
the  ' lidless-eyed  train  of  planets,'  where  he  saw  'a  com- 
pleted form  of  all  completeness/  'with  gordian'd  locks  and 
pearl  round  ears/  and  kissed  all  these  till  he  fell  into  a 
'stupid  sleep/  from  which  he  was  roused  by  'a  gentle 
creep/  (N.B.  Mr.  Tiffin  is  the  ablest  bug-destroyer  of  our 
days,)  to  look  at  some  'upturned  gills  of  dying  fish/" 

This  exquisite  humour  is  carried  on  throughout,  the  last 
paragraph  reading: 

"We  do  most  solemnly  assure  our  readers  that  this  poem, 
containing  4074  lines,  is  printed  on  very  nice  hot-pressed 
paper,  and  sold  for  nine  shillings,  by  a  very  respectable 
London  bookseller.  Moreover,  that  the  author  has  put  his 
name  in  the  title  page,  and  told  us,  that  though  he  is  some- 
thing between  man  and  boy,  he  means  by  and  by  to  be 
'plotting  and  fitting  himself  for  verses  fit  to  live/  We 
think  it  necessary  to  add  that  it  is  all  written  in  rhyme, 
and,  for  the  most  part,  (when  there  are  syllables  enough) 
in  the  heroic  couplet." 

Two  of  the  most  important  reviews  had  spoken,  the 
Quarterly  and  Blackwood's.  The  British  Critic  had  not 
quite  the  same  rank,  it  was  merely  the  terrier  yapping  be- 
side the  big  dogs.  But  where  was  the  Whig  rival,  Con- 
stable's Edinburgh  Review,  whose  editor  was  the  temperate 
and  intellectual  Jeffrey?  Silent,  totally  silent.  No  notice 
whatever  was  taken  of  Endymion  in  the  Edinburgh  Review 
until  two  years  later. 

Seldom  has  any  author  been  called  upon  to  face  a  more 
annihilating  trio  of  reviews  than  these  that  Keats  read, 
one  after  the  other,  during  the  first  weeks  of  his  return  to 
Hampstead.  To  say  that  he  was  not  cut  to  the  quick  by 
them,  would  be  both  foolish  and  false;  but  to  believe  that 
he  was  in  the  least  crushed  because  of  them  is  to  misunder- 
stand his  character  and  misconstrue  his  attitude.  He 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  89 

winced,  but  never  for  a  moment  did  he  flinch.  No  man 
likes  to  be  called  a  "starved  apothecary,"  or  "an  amiable 
but  infatuated  bardling,"  but  that  Keats  ever  wavered 
under  these  sneers  has  been  long  since  proved  not  to  have 
been  so.  There  is  perfect  sense  in  his  remark  that  "what 
Reviewers  can  put  a  hindrance  to  must  be  —  a  nothing  — 
or  mediocre  which  is  worse."  He  tells  George  that  such 
articles  are  "a  mere  matter  of  the  moment,"  and  adds  that 
the  attempt  to  crush  him  in  the  Quarterly  has  only  brought 
him  into  more  notice. 

Such  flaming  attacks  were  almost  sure  to  bring  rejoinders. 
On  Saturday,  October  third,  a  letter  appeared  in  the 
Morning  Chronicle.  This  letter  averred  that  its  author 
knew  nothing  of  Keats,  but  was  moved  by  the  "malice  and 
gross  injustice"  displayed  by  the  Quarterly  toward  him  to 
put  in  a  word  of  protest.  Led  to  read  the  poem  by  the 
article  in  question,  the  writer,  having  done  so,  announces 
that  he  dares,  "appeal  to  the  taste  and  judgement  of  your 
readers,  that  beauties  of  the  highest  order  may  be  found  in 
almost  every  page."  After  a  few  perfectly  just  criticisms, 
which  do  but  make  his  encomiums  the  more  weighty,  the 
writer  ends  with  some  very  sharp  digs  at  certain  well-known 
critics  (suggested,  but  not  named)  who  might  have  written 
the  review,  among  others,  funnily  enough,  Croker  himself, 
to  whom  he  advises  a  comparison  between  Endymion  and 
the  Battle  of  Talevera.  Since  Croker  was  the  author  of  the 
Battle,  this  was  a  bit  of  sheer,  heart-winning  audacity,  and 
endears  the  mythical "  J.  S."  to  us  forever.  The  article  was 
signed  "J.S."  but  who  wrote  it  remains  a  mystery.  Both 
Keats  and  Taylor  declared  they  did  not  know.  It  could 
not  have  been  Severn,  he  was  dangerously  ill  with  a  "ty- 
phous fever"  (probably  typhoid)  at  the  time;  John  Scott 
has  been  suggested  as  the  author,  but  he  was  still  abroad; 
James  Smith  is  a  possible  speculation,  but  has  nothing  to 
substantiate  it.  No,  we  do  not  know  the  author  —  as  yet, 
at  least. 


9o  JOHN  KEATS 

On  the  following  Thursday,  the  Morning  Chronicle 
published  another  letter,  this  time  signed  "R.B."  and 
dated  "Temple."  "R.B."  was  also  declared  unknown  by 
both  Keats  and  Taylor,  and  no  hint  as  to  who  he  was  has 
ever  been  discovered.  I  have  found  in  the  Woodhouse 
Book  in  the  Morgan  Library  a  copy  of  this  letter,  but  I 
fear  that  proves  nothing,  for  Woodhouse  may  simply  have 
copied  it  from  the  paper.  It  is  worth  remarking,  however, 
that  he  does  not  seem  to  have  copied  the  letter  signed 
"  J.  S."  "  R.  B.'s  "  letter  was  a  manly  backing  up  of  "  J.  S.," 
who  had  anticipated  the  "few  remarks"  which  he  (R.B.) 
had  intended  to  make.  To  prove  his  point  that  "the 
Critic  who  could  pass  over  such  beauties  as  these  lines 
contain"  is  not  "very  implicitly  to  be  relied  upon,"  "R.  B." 
appends  to  his  article  some  long  quotations  from  Endymion, 
all  taken  from  the  First  Book,  as  the  Quarterly  reviewer 
had  professed  to  have  read  nothing  else.  These  quotations 
amount  in  all  to  about  fifty  lines,  twenty-two  of  which  are 
taken  from  the  Hymn  to  Pan. 

When  the  last  letter  came  out,  good,  thoughtful,  sym- 
pathetic Hessey  sent  them  both  to  Keats.  Keats,  in  his 
answer,  shows  exactly  how  the  whole  circumstance  was 
affecting  him: 

"I  cannot  but  feel  indebted  to  those  gentlemen  who  have 
taken  my  part.  As  for  the  rest,  I  begin  to  get  a  little 
acquainted  with  my  own  strength  and  weakness.  — 
Praise  or  blame  has  but  a  momentary  effect  on  the  man 
whose  love  of  beauty  in  the  abstract  makes  him  a  severe 
critique  on  his  own  Works.  My  own  domestic  criticism 
has  given  me  pain  without  comparison  beyond  what 
Blackwood  or  the  Quarterly  could  possibly  inflict  —  and 
also  when  I  feel  I  am  right,  no  external  praise  can  give  me 
such  a  glow  as  my  own  solitary  reperception  and  ratifica- 
tion of  what  is  fine.  J.  S.  is  perfectly  right  in  regard  to  the 
slip-shod  Endymion.  That  it  is  so  is  no  fault  of  mine.  No! 
—  though  it  may  sound  a  little  paradoxical.  It  is  as  good 
as  I  had  power  to  make  it  —  by  myself.  Had  I  been 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  9i 

nervous  about  its  being  a  perfect  piece,  and  with  that  view 
asked  advice,  and  trembled  over  every  page,  it  would  not 
have  been  written ;  for  it  is  not  in  my  nature  to  fumble  —  I 
will  write  independently.  —  I  have  written  independently 
without  Judgement.  I  may  write  independently,  and  with 
Judgement  hereafter.  The  Genius  of  Poetry  must  work  out 
its  own  salvation  in  a  man:  It  cannot  be  matured  by  law 
and  precept,  but  by  sensation  and  watchfulness  in  itself. 
That  which  is  creative  must  create  itself.  In  'Endymion,' 
I  leaped  headlong  into  the  sea,  and  thereby  have  become 
better  acquainted  with  the  Soundings,  the  quicksands,  and 
the  rocks,  than  if  I  had  stayed  upon  the  green  shore,  and 
piped  a  silly  pipe,  and  took  tea  and  comfortable  advice.  I 
was  never  afraid  of  failure ;  for  I  would  sooner  fail  than  not 
be  among  the  greatest/1 

So  Keats  looked  into  and  judged  himself,  and  who  shall 
say  that  the  judgment  was  not  wise  and  just! 

Keats's  friends  were,  of  course,  if  not  surprised  at  these 
vicious  attacks,  nevertheless  utterly  incensed.  Bailey  was 
introduced  to  Blackwood  somewhere,  and  on  Blackwood's 
informing  him  that,  on  his  return  from  London,  he  had 
been  very  sorry  to  find  the  attack  on  Keats  in  his  magazine, 
Bailey  flatly  told  him  that  it  was  "infamous."  But  Bailey 
was  not  content  to  stop  there.  He  tried  to  get  Blackwood 
to  let  him  publish  a  defence  of  Keats,  but  naturally  could 
not  do  so.  Then  he  wrote  an  article  attacking  Blackwood's 
and  sent  it  to  Constable  for  insertion  in  his  Edinburgh 
Magazine  (not  to  be  confounded  with  the  Edinburgh  Re- 
view), but  this  was  returned  to  him  without  a  word. 
Bailey,  by  this  time  discouraged,  tore  up  his  article,  but 
begged  Taylor  to  tell  Keats  what  his  intentions  had  been. 

Reynolds,  in  Devonshire,  had  better  luck.  He  wrote  a 
long  paper,  attacking  the  Quarterly  and  lauding  Keats,  and 
got  it  published  in  The  Alfred,  West  of  England  Journal 
and  General  Advertiser  on  Tuesday,  October  sixth.  This 
article,  somewhat  abridged,  Hunt  reprinted  the  following 
Sunday  in  the  Examiner,  with  a  few  prefatory  remarks  by 


92  JOHN  KEATS 

himself.  Hunt  has  been  accused  of  pusillanimity  in  not 
coming  to  Keats's  rescue  more  stoutly  at  this  time,  and 
after  Keats's  death  he  himself  regretted  that  he  had  not 
done  more.  But  what  good  would  it  have  been?  Hunt 
could  only  have  made  things  worse,  and  then,  too,  he  was 
not  enthusiastic  over  Endymion,  and  more  than  a  little 
piqued  that  he  had  not  been  consulted  about  it.  On  the 
whole,  I  imagine  that  the  wisest  thing  he  could  do  was 
just  what  he  did  —  reprint  Reynolds's  article  and  leave 
things  there.  Since  the  article  was  not  signed,  it  had  all 
the  weight  of  a  fresh  opinion  hailing  from  another  part  of 
the  country. 

Nothing  can  exaggerate  the  cruelty  of  the  reviews,  nor 
the  unfortunate  chance  that  Keacs  should  have  had  to 
undergo  them  just  when  he  did.  Tom's  illness  was  misery 
sufficient  to  darken  all  Keats's  sky.  Besides  this,  he  was 
suffering  from  a  mental  tumult  of  opposing  desires.  It  is 
not  a  little  difficult  to  give  a  correct  picture  of  Keats's 
mind  during  this  Autumn.  We  must  follow  no  thread  of 
his  thought  without  at  the  same  time  keeping  an  eye  on 
the  other  threads.  Keats  lived  his  days  as  they  came, 
fighting  his  difficulties  as  they  arose,  now  absorbed  in  his 
own  state  of  mind,  then  suddenly  lifted  out  of  himself  by 
reflecting  for  a  time  on  poetry,  and  again  fuming  at  the 
reviews  and  planning  " great  verse"  which  should,  in  no 
very  distant  future,  confute  his  enemies;  yet,  all  the  time, 
over  him,  surrounding  him  whichever  way  he  turned, 
pressing  down  upon  him,  was  the  inescapable  knowledge 
that  Tom  was  dying,  dying,  leaving  him,  and  that  every 
hour  spent  away  from  Tom,  every  thought  which  had  not 
its  core  in  Tom,  was  in  some  sort  a  treason,  a  wasting  of 
precious  moments  the  flight  of  which  he  could  not  stay. 
With  Brown  still  in  Scotland,  and  Reynolds  in  Devon- 
shire, Keats's  chief  props  during  the  early  Autumn  were 
undoubtedly  the  Dilkes.  Then  Dilke,  who  had  not  been 
well  for  some  time,  went  off"  to  Brighton,  and  Haydon> 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  93 

whose  eyes  had  been  troubling  him  very  much,  also  de- 
parted to  visit  his  sister  at  Bridgewater.  The  old  group 
seemed  quite  disintegrated.  Keats  must  often  have  felt 
that  he  was  living  in  some  ghastly  nightmare,  where  all 
the  old  familiar  things  of  habit  had  suddenly  grown  strange 
and  unreal.  If  the  streets  looked  the  same,  his  purposes 
as  he  walked  along  them  were  quite  altered;  the  cheery 
lodging  at  Well  Walk  was  inconceivably  changed.  No 
George,  and  only  a  poor,  tortured  semblance  of  Tom  to 
greet  him  when  he  came  back  from  a  walk,  or  from  town  — 
Tom,  to  whom  he  could  not  vent  his  own  sufferings  as  he 
had  been  wont  to  do  all  his  life.  We  get  a  very  clear  glimpse 
of  his  condition  in  a  passage  from  a  letter  which  he  wrote 
to  Dilke  late  in  September.  After  an  heroic  attempt  to  be 
his  old  nonsensical  self  for  a  page,  he  breaks  out: 

"  I  wish  I  could  say  Tom  was  any  better.  His  identity 
presses  upon  me  so  all  day  that  I  am  obliged  to  go  out  — 
and  although  I  intended  to  have  given  some  time  to  study 
alone,  I  am  obliged  to  write  and  plunge  into  abstract 
images  to  ease  myself  of  his  countenance,  his  voice,  and 
feebleness  —  so  that  I  live  now  in  a  continual  fever.  It 
must  be  poisonous  to  life,  although  I  feel  well." 

That  abstract  images,  either  his  own  or  other  people's 
often  failed  to  ease  him  can  be  seen  by  an  annotation  in  his 
folio  Shakespeare,  where,  in  Act  III,  Scene  IV,  of  King 
Lear,  the  words,  "poore  Tom,"  are  underlined  and  the 
date,  "Sunday  evening,  Octr  4,  1818,"  written  beside 
them. 

In  the  same  letter  to  Dilke,  he  casually  mentions  that 

11  Rice  is  in  town.  I  have  not  seen  him,  nor  shall  I  for  some 
time,  as  my  throat  has  become  worse  after  getting  well, 
and  I  am  determined  to  stop  at  home  till  I  am  quite  well.11 

On  the  same  day,  he  wrote  to  Reynolds,  a  letter  full  of 
generous  rejoicing  at  his  friend's  happiness.  From  this 
letter,  and  from  Keats's  telling  Dilke  that  he  hears  that 


94  JOHN  KEATS 

Reynolds  is  "almost  over-happy,"  I  suppose  that  Miss 
Drew  had  at  last  consented  to  a  formal  engagement. 
Here  is  what  Keats  says  about  Reynolds  and  about  him- 
self: 

"Believe  me  I  have  rather  rejoiced  at  your  happiness 
than  fretted  at  your  silence.  Indeed  I  am  grieved  on  your 
account  that  I  am  not  at  the  same  time  happy.  But  I 
conjure  you  to  think  at  present  of  nothing  but  pleasure  — 
1  Gather  the  rose,  &c '  —  gorge  the  honey  of  life.  I  pity  you 
as  much  that  it  cannot  last  forever,  as  I  do  myself  now 
drinking  bitters.  Give  yourself  up  to  it  —  you  cannot  help 
it  —  and  I  have  a  consolation  in  thinking  so.  I  never  was 
in  love  —  yet  the  voice  and  shape  of  a  Woman  has  haunted 
me  these  two  days  —  at  such  a  time,  when  the  relief,  the 
feverous  relief  of  Poetry  seems  a  much  less  crime.  This 
morning  Poetry  has  conquered  —  I  have  relapsed  into 
those  abstractions  which  are  my  only  life  —  I  feel  escaped 
from  a  new  strange  and  threatening  sorrow  —  and  I  am 
thankful  for  it.  There  is  an  awful  warmth  about  my  heart 
like  a  load  of  Immortality. 

Poor  Tom  —  that  woman  —  and  Poetry  were  ringing 
changes  in  my  senses.  Now  I  am  in  comparison  happy  — 
I  am  sensible  this  will  distress  you  —  you  must  forgive 
me." 

Already,  before  he  left  Scotland,  Keats,  as  we  have  seen, 
was  considerably  occupied  with  the  thought  of  women; 
how  they  stood  to  him,  and  if  they  really  stood  anywhere 
at  all  in  his  economy.  Now,  suddenly,  the  negative  turns 
positive.  A  woman  swings  across  his  vision,  and  he  is 
conscious  of  a  distinct  sense  of  attraction.  This  is  discon- 
certing, and  in  his  present  situation  such  a  thought  ap- 
pears like  sacrilege  to  him.  Also,  he  is  afraid,  distinctly 
afraid,  of  what  a  real  passion  would  mean  to  him.  This  is 
not  a  real  passion,  he  has  the  perspicacity  to  realize  that 
immediately.  This  is  to  be  no  more  than  a  passing  excite- 
ment; but,  for  the  moment,  even  as  he  sees  behind  it,  as  it 
were,  his  nerves  respond  acutely  to  its  stimulus,  so  that 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  95 

the  memory  of  this  woman  shakes  and  confuses  him  by  its 
implication  of  a  possibility. 

The  woman  who  passes  so  kaleidoscopically  across 
Keats's  destiny  was  a  young  Anglo-Indian,  Miss  Jane  Cox, 
a  niece  of  Mrs.  Reynolds.  Keats  tells  the  whole  story  to 
George  and  Georgiana  a  few  days  later,  when,  we  may  guess, 
a  little  more  perspective  had  been  added  to  the  original 
effect: 

"She  is  not  a  Cleopatra,  but  she  is  at  least  a  Charmian. 
She  has  a  rich  eastern  look;  she  has  fine  eyes  and  fine 
manners.  When  she  comes  into  a  room  she  makes  an 
impression  the  same  as  the  Beauty  of  a  Leopardess  ...  I 
always  find  myself  more  at  ease  with  such  a  woman ;  the 
picture  before  me  always  gives  me  a  life  and  animation 
which  I  cannot  possibly  feel  with  anything  inferior.  I  am 
at  such  times  too  much  occupied  in  admiring  to  be  awk- 
ward or  on  a  tremble.  I  forget  myself  entirely  because  I 
live  in  her.  You  will  by  this  time  think  I  am  in  love  with 
her;  so  before  I  go  any  further  I  will  tell  you  I  am  not  — 
she  kept  me  awake  one  Night  as  a  tune  of  Mozart's  might 
do  ...  I  believe  tho'  she  has  faults  —  the  same  as  Char- 
mian and  Cleopatra  might  have  had.  Yet  she  is  a  fine 
thing  speaking  in  a  worldly  way:  for  there  are  two  distinct 
tempers  of  mind  in  which  we  judge  of  things  —  the  worldly, 
theatrical  and  pantomimical ;  and  the  unearthly,  spiritual 
and  ethereal  —  in  the  former  Buonaparte,  Lord  Byron  and 
this  Charmian  hold  the  first  place  in  our  Minds;  in  the 
latter,  John  Howard,  Bishop  Hooker  rocking  his  child's 
cradle,  and  you  my  dear  Sister  are  the  conquering  feelings. 
As  a  Man  in  the  world  I  love  the  rich  talk  of  a  Charmian; 
as  an  eternal  Being  I  love  the  thought  of  you.  I  should  like 
her  to  ruin  me,  and  I  should  like  you  to  save  me." 

In  spite  of  her  rich  talk  and  leopardess-like  bearing,  Miss 
Cox  had  not  the  qualities  essential  to  the  making  of  a  deep 
impression  upon  Keats.  The  dual  love  which  he  uncon- 
sciously craved,  that  longing  for  a  lover  who  should  also 
be  a  mother,  that  necessity  for  believing  in  the  spirit  even 


96  JOHN  KEATS 

while  adoring  the  flesh,  all  this  girt  Keats  as  with  a  magi- 
cally tempered  armour.  Miss  Cox  had  no  weapon  to  pierce 
such  metal  as  this,  and  of  her  we  hear  no  more.  But,  even 
as  it  listed,  the  wind  of  sexual  passion  was  preparing  to  blow 
again. 

To  follow  Keats's  life  as  he  lived  it  during  these  Autumn 
months,  it  is  constantly  necessary  to  break  off  one  train  of 
thought  and  pursue  another.  Tom,  Poetry,  and  Woman 
—  these  are  the  things  which  shared  Keats's  life  at  this 
time.  He  knew  that  health  to  him  meant  having  poetry  to 
write,  and  writing  it.  If  his  mind  must  wander  from  Tom, 
even  for  a  moment,  poetry  was  the  only  thing  which  carried 
a  certain  justification  with  it.  There  was  no  infidelity 
here;  Tom  loved  his  poetry  as  much  as  he  did.  And  so  the 
changes  ring  back  to  Tom. 

Luckily  for  Keats,  there  were  outside  things  which  must 
be  attended  to.  Why,  in  this  very  number  of  the  Quarterly ', 
there  was  a  review  of  Birkbeck's  two  books  on  America. 
If  Keats  saw  it,  he  must  have  been  struck  with  the  superb 
irony  of  circumstance  which  put  it  there. 

One  thing  the  reviews  had  done.  They  had  shown  Keats 
how  firmly  his  friends  and  his  publishers  were  prepared  to 
stand  by  him.  On  one  occasion,  dining  with  Hessey,  Keats 
seems  to  have  said  something  to  the  effect  that  everything 
had  been  written  already,  and  therefore  what  was  the  use 
of  writing  any  more.  Woodhouse,  who  was  present,  was  a 
good  deal  worried  at  Keats's  remark,  and,  taking  Black- 
wood's  and  the  Quarterly  into  consideration,  he  could  not 
wonder  at  it.  So  distressed  was  he,  that  he  sat  down  and 
wrote  to  Keats.  This  letter  has  never,  so  far  as  I  can  dis- 
cover, been  printed,  although  it  has  been  postulated  from 
Keats's  answer.  A  second  unpublished  document  contains 
Woodhouse's  comments  on  this  answer,  and  as  Keats's 
letter  and  the  two  Woodhouse  documents  together  make 
an  interesting  and  unrecorded  series,  I  shall  give  extracts 
from  all  three. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  97 

Writing  from  his  rooms  in  the  Temple,  under  the  date  of 
October  twenty-first,  Woodhouse  says: 

1 "  MY  DEAR  KEATS, 

Whilst  in  the  country,  from  whence  I  am  but  lately  re- 
turned, I  met  with  that  malicious,  but  weak  &  silly  article 
on  Endymion  in  the  last  Quarterly  Review.  God  help  the 
Critic,  whoever  he  be!  He  is  as  ignorant  of  the  rudiments 
of  his  own  craft  as  of  the  Essentials  of  true  Poetry. 

That  his  very  regrettable*  censures  may  have  the  effect  of 
scaring  from  the  perusal  of  the  work  some  of  the  '  Dandy1 
readers,  male  &  female,  who  love  to  be  spared  the  trou- 
ble of  judging  for  themselves,  is  to  be  expected.  But  with 
men  of  sense,  (as  the  example  of  J.  S.  in  the  Chronicle, 
proves)  the  effect  must  be  the  reverse  ...  for  the  reviewer 
in  his  undiscriminating  stupidity,  has  laid  his  finger  of 
contempt  upon  passages  of  such  beauty,  that  no  one  with  a 
spark  of  poetic  feeling  can  read  them  without  a  desire  to 
know  more  of  the  poem.  —  '  If/  said  a  friend  of  mine  at 
Bath,  who  had  seen  the  critique,  but  not  the  work,  'these 
are  the  worst  passages,  what  must  the  best  be*  ...  But 
enough  of  such  cobbling,  carping,  decasyllabic,  finger- 
scanning  criticaster.  —  His  hour  of  'brief  authority'  must 
be  nigh  over.  His  blindness  will  soon  work  its  own  way 
into  the  earth.  — 

The  appearance  of  this  'critical  morsel,'  however, 
determines  me  to  address  you  on  the  subject  of  your  late 
conversation  at  Hessey's,  on  which  I  have  often  since 
reflected,  and  never  without  a  degree  of  pain  —  I  may 
have  misconceived  you ;  but  I  understood  you  to  say,  you 
thought  there  was  now  nothing  original  to  be  written  in 
poetry;  that  its  riches  were  already  exhausted,  &  all  its 
beauties  forestalled  —  &  That  you  should,  consequently, 
write  no  more.  I  cannot  assent  to  your  premises,  and  I 
most  earnestly  deprecate  your  conclusion.  —  For  my  part 
I  believe  most  sincerely,  that  the  wealth  of  poetry  is  un- 
exhausted and  inexhaustible  —  The  ideas  derivable  to  us 
from  our  senses  singly  &  in  their  various  combinations  with 

1  From  a  draft  of  the  original  letter  made  by  Woodhouse.  Author's 
Collection. 

2  This  word  is  problematic,  as  it  could  not  be  clearly  read. 


98  JOHN  KEATS 

each  other  store  the  mind  with  endless  images  of  natural 
beauty  ...  It  is  then  for  the  Poeta  factus,  the  imitator  of 
others,  who  sings  only  as  has  been  sung,  to  say  that  our 
measure  of  poetry  is  full,  &  that  there  is  nothing  new  to  be 
written,  thus  charging  upon  'most  innocent  nature'  a 
dearth  existing  only  in  his  own  dull  brain  —  But  the  poeta 
natus,  the  true  born  son  of  Genius,  who  creates  for  himself 
the  world  in  which  his  own  fancy  ranges,  who  culls  from  it 
fair  forms  of  truth  beauty  &  purity  &  apparels  them  in  hues 
chosen  by  himself  should  hold  a  different  language  —  he 
need  never  fear  that  the  treasury  he  draws  from  can  be 
exhausted,  nor  despair  of  always  being  able  to  make  an 
original  selection. 

It  is  true  that  in  this  age;  the  mass  are  not  of  soul  to  con- 
ceive of  themselves  or  even  to  apprehend  when  presented 
to  them,  the  truly  &  simply  beautiful  of  poetry.  —  A  taste 
vitiated  by  the  sweetmeats  &  kickshaws  of  the  past  century 
may  be  the  reason  for  this.  Still  fewer  of  this  generation 
are  capable  of  properly  embodying  the  high  conceptions 
they  may  have  —  and  of  the  last  number  few  are  the 
individuals  who  do  not  allow  their  fire  and  originality  to 
be  damped  by  the  apprehensions  of  shallow  censures  from 
the  grouching  &  the  'cold-hearted/  'In  these  evil  days 
however,  and  these  Evil  tongues'  (in  the  spirit  of  truth  & 
sincerity  &  not  of  flattery  I  say  it)  I  believe  there  has 
appeared  one  bard  who  'preserves  his  vessel'  in  purity 
independence  &  honor  —  who  judges  of  the  beautiful  for 
himself,  careless  who  thinks  with  him  —  who  pursues  his 
own  selfappointed  &  approved  course  right  onward  —  who 
stoops  not  from  his  flight  to  win  sullied  breath  from  the 
multitude  .  .  .  and  shall  such  a  one,  upon  whom  anxious  eyes 
are  fixed  ...  be  dismayed  at  the  yelpings  of  the  tuneless, 
the  curious,  the  malignant  or  the  undiscerning?  or  shall  he 
fall  into  the  worse  error  of  supposing  that  there  is  left  no 
corner  of  the  universal  heaven  of  poetry  un visited  by 
Wing?  Shall  he  subtract  himself  from  the  caputations1  of 
his  country;  and  leave  its  ear  &  its  soul  to  be  soothed  only 
by  the  rhymers  &  the  coupleteers?  Shall  he  let  'so  fair  a 
house  fall  to  decay '  —  and  shall  he  give  the  land  which  let 

1  This  seems  to  be  the  word  Woodhouse  wrote,  but  it  is  very  indistinct. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT  99 

Chatterton  &  K.  White  die  of  unkindness  and  neglect  — 
but  which  yet  retained  the  grace  to  weep  over  their  ashes, 
no  opportunity  of  redeeming  its  Character  &  paying  the 
vast  debt  it  owes  to  Genius?  —  Your  conduct,  my  Dear 
Keats,  must  give  these  Questions  an  answer.  — 

'  Know  thine  own  work  &  reverence  the  lyre! '  — 
The  world,  I  hope  &  trust,  is  not  quite  so  dead  dull  and 
ungrateful  as  you  may  have  apprehended  —  or  as  a  few 
malevolent  spirits  may  have  given  you  reason  to  imagine. 
It  contains,  I  know,  many  who  have  a  warm  'affection  for 
the  cause  of  stedfast  Genius  toiling  gallantly,'  —  many 
who,  thof  personally  unknown  to  you,  look  with  the  eye  of 
hope  &  anticipation  to  your  future  course  —  but  very  few 
who  in  sincere  wishes  for  your  welfare,  &  passion  for  your 
fame,  exceed,  Dear  Keats, 

Yours  most  truly, 

RlCHD  WOODHOUSE." 

We  get  a  very  clear  idea  of  Woodhouse  from  that  letter. 
The  man  himself  is  there,  with  his  keen  literary  interest, 
his  insight,  his  loyalty,  and  his  egregious  habit  of  constant 
quotation.  Woodhouse  is  a  bit  stilted  now  and  then,  very 
much  the  lettered  dilettante,  but  such  a  good,  steady,  hon- 
est soul  looks  at  us  through  the  ornamental  phrases  that 
we  forget  to  be  annoyed  by  them,  and  notice  only  the 
evident  sincerity  which  no  clap-trap  of  expression  can  con- 
ceal. Keats  was  never  intimate  with  Woodhouse  in  the 
sense  that  he  was  intimate  with  Reynolds,  or  Bailey,  or 
Brown,  but  Woodhouse  must  have  been  a  comfort  to  him 
in  many  ways,  he  must  often  have  warmed  himself  at 
Woodhouse's  enthusiasm,  even  though  Woodhouse's  insati- 
able curiosity  in  regard  to  his  work  undoubtedly  galled  him 
at  times.  But  this  letter  came  at  the  crucial  moment,  when 
Keats  needed  just  the  kind  of  encouragement  and  solid 
backing  that  Woodhouse  gave.  He  answered  within  the  week 
(his  reply  is  postmarked  "OC.  27,  1818.  12  o'Clock")  in  a 
letter  which  is  so  important  that,  in  spite  of  its  being  well 
known,!  do  not  feel  justified  in  giving  otherwise  than  entire. 


ioo  JOHN  KEATS 

1  "  MY  DEAR  WOODHOUSE. 

Your  letter  gave  me  great  satisfaction,  more  on  account 
of  its  friendliness  than  any  relish  for  that  matter  in  it  which 
is  accounted  so  acceptable  to  the  'genus  irritabile.'   The 
best  answer  I  can  give  you  is  in  a  clerklike  manner  to  make 
some  observations  on  two  principal  points  which  seem  to 
point  like  indices  into  the  midst  of  the  whole  pro  and  con 
about  genius,  and  views,  and  achievements  and  ambition 
and  caetera.  Ist.  As  to  the  poetical  character  itself  (I  mean 
that  sort,  of  which,  if  I  am  anything,  I  am  a  member;  that 
sort  distinguished  from  the  Wordsworthian,  or  egotistical 
Sublime;  which  is  a  thing  per  se,  and  stands  alone),  it  is  not 
itself  —  it  has  no  self  —  It  is  every  thing  and  nothing  — 
It  has  no  character  —  it  enjoys  light  and  shade;  it  lives  in 
gusto,  be  it  foul  or  fair,  high  or  low,  rich  or  poor,  mean  or 
elevated.  —  It  has  as  much  delight  in  conceiving  an  lago 
as  an  Imogen.  What  shocks  the  virtuous  philosopher  de- 
lights the  chameleon  poet.   It  does  no  harm  from  its  relish 
of  the  dark  side  of  things,  any  more  than  from  its  taste  for 
the  bright  one,  because  they  both  end  in  speculation.   A 
poet  is  the  most  unpoetical  of  anything  in  existence  be- 
cause he  has  no  Identity  —  he  is  continually  in  for  and 
filling  some  other  body.    The  Sun,  —  the  Moon,  —  the 
Sea,  and  men  and  women,  who  are  creatures  of  impulse,  are 
poetical,  and  have  about  them  an  unchangeable  attribute; 
the  poet  has  none,  no  identity  —  he  is  certainly  the  most 
unpoetical  of  all  God's  creatures.  —  If  then  he  has  no  self, 
and  if  I  am  a  poet,  where  is  the  wonder  that  I  should  say 
that  I  would  write  no  more?    Might  I  not  at  that  very 
instant  have  been  cogitating  on  the  Characters  of  Saturn 
and  Ops?  It  is  a  wretched  thing  to  confess;  but  it  is  a  very 
fact,  that  not  one  word  I  ever  utter  can  be  taken  for 
granted  as  an  opinion  growing  out  of  my  identical  Nature 

—  how  can  it,  when  I  have  no  Nature?  When  I  am  in  a 
room  with  people,  if  I  ever  am  free  from  speculating  on 
creations  of  my  own  brain,  then,  not  myself  goes  home  to 
myself,  but  the  identity  of  every  one  in  the  room  begins  to 
press  upon  me,  so  that  I  am  in  a  very  little  time  annihilated 

—  not  only  among  men;  it  would  be  the  same  in  a  nursery 

1  Quoted  from  the  original  letter.  Author's  Collection. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          101 

of  Children.  I  know  not  whether  I  make  myself  wholly 
understood:  I  hope  enough  so  to  let  you  see  that  no 
dependence  is  to  be  placed  on  what  I  said  that  day. 

In  the  second  place,  I  will  speak  of  my  views,  and  of  the 
life  I  purpose  to  myself.  I  am  ambitious  of  doing  the  world 
some  good:  if  I  should  be  spared,  that  may  be  the  work 
of  maturer  years  —  in  the  interval  I  will  assay  to  reach 
to  as  high  a  summit  in  poetry  as  the  nerve  bestowed  upon 
me  will  suffer.  The  faint  conceptions  I  have  of  poems  to 
come  bring  the  blood  frequently  into  my  forehead.  All 
I  hope  is,  that  I  may  not  lose  all  interest  in  human  affairs 
—  that  the  solitary  Indifference  I  feel  for  applause,  even 
from  the  finest  spirits,  will  not  blunt  any  acuteness  of 
vision  I  may  have.  I  do  not  think  it  will.  I  feel  assured 
I  should  write  from  the  mere  yearning  and  fondness  I 
have  for  the  beautiful,  even  if  my  night's  labours  should 
be  burnt  every  Morning,  and  no  eye  ever  shine  upon 
them.  But  even  now  I  am  perhaps  not  speaking  from 
myself,  but  from  some  Character  in  whose  soul  I  now 
live. 

I  am  sure,  however,  that  this  next  sentence  is  from  my- 
self —  I  feel  your  anxiety,  good  opinion,  and  friendship,  in 
the  highest  degree,  and  am 

Yours  most  sincerely, 

JOHN  KEATS." 

There  is  some  exaggeration  here,  and  more  than  a  little 
fatigue.  Keats  was  bearing  too  much,  and  it  was  telling 
upon  him.  The  identities  of  people  do  not  so  press  upon  a 
person  in  health,  even  though  he  be  a  poet.  That  Tom's 
identity  should  press  upon  him  constantly  at  this  time,  is 
no  wonder;  it  could  not  have  been  otherwise.  But  that 
this  impinging  of  other  personalities  on  his  should  be 
carried  into  a  drawing-room  of  casual  acquaintance,  shows 
that  Keats  was  all  fagged  out,  with  brain,  and  nerves,  and 
body  harassed  and  jangling.  The  marvel  is  that  he  stood 
the  strain  as  well  as  he  did.  And  there  is  a  great  deal  of 
truth  in  his  remarks.  The  poet  differs  from  the  "poetic" 
person  in  just  this  power  to  lose  himself  in  his  creations. 


102  JOHN  KEATS 

The  "poetic"  person  is  a  sentimentalist,  he  refers  all  things 
to  himself  and  finds  them  of  importance  in  proportion  to 
the  sensations  they  arouse  in  him;  the  poet  is  concerned 
with  his  creations  for  themselves,  and  forgets  his  own  per- 
sonality in  the  effort  to  imbue  them  with  such  as  are  proper 
to  his  conception  of  them.  We  have  seen  before  how 
puzzled  Keats  was  by  his  own  changes  of  mood.  In  refer- 
ring to  them  as  belonging  to  some  other  personality,  he  is 
merely  seeking  to  satisfy  himself  by  inventing  a  reason  for 
them.  But  the  reason  does  not  quite  hit  the  mark,  al- 
though it  glances  off  the  edge  of  it.  We  shall  be  wiser  not  to 
follow  Keats's  argument  with  too  implicit  a  faith.  Of  his 
sincerity  in  writing  it,  there  can  be  no  question.  He  had 
persuaded  himself  that  he  had  found  an  explanation, 
while  in  reality  the  clue  lay  in  the  complexity  of  his  char- 
acter alone. 

Woodhouse  appears  to  have  expended  a  good  deal  of 
thought  on  the  exact  meaning  of  Keats's  words,  taken  in 
connection  with  the  man  as  he  knew  him.  Leaving  on  one 
side,  with  admirable  perspicuity,  the  relation  of  Keats's 
imaginative  life  to  his  expressed  intentions,  thus  refusing 
any  agreement  to  Keats's  chief  contention,  he  neverthe- 
less realized  and  traced  the  positive  facts  which  Keats  had 
assayed  to  explain.  The  document  in  which  Woodhouse 
set  down  his  conclusions  is  without  superscription  of  any 
sort,  so  it  may  have  been  merely  one  of  his  many  notes  on 
Keats;  on  the  other  hand,  it  is  quite  probable  that  Wood- 
house  was  writing  to  enlighten  Taylor,  to  whom  he  very 
probably  showed  Keats's  letter.  Woodhouse's  reflections, 
in  part,  are: 

1"I  believe  him  to  be  right  with  regard  to  his  own 
Poetical  Character  —  And  I  perceive  clearly  the  dis- 
tinction he  draws  between  himself  &  those  of  the  Words- 
worth School.  There  are  gradations  in  Poetry  and  in 
Poets." 

1  Woodhouse  Book.   Morgan  Collection. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          103 

Here  Woodhouse  describes  at  some  length  the  various  kinds 
of  poets,  and  continues: 

"The  highest  order  of  Poet  will  not  only  possess  all  the 
above  powers  but  will  have  so  high  an  imagn  that  he  will 
be  able  to  throw  his  own  soul  into  any  object  he  sees  or 
imagines,  so  as  to  see  feel  be  sensible  of  &  express  all  that 
the  object  itself  wod  see  feel  be  sensible  of  or  express.  He 
will  speak  out  of  that  object  so  that  His  own  self  will  with 
the  Exception  of  the  mechanical  part  be  'annihilated/  — 
and  it  is  of  the  excess  of  this  power  that  I  suppose  Keats  to 
speak,  when  he  says  he  has  no  identity.  As  a  poet,  and 
when  the  fit  is  upon  him,  this  is  true.  And  it  is  a  fact  that 
he  does  by  the  power  of  his  Imagn  create  ideal  personages 
substances  &  Powers  —  that  he  lives  for  a  time  in  their 
souls  or  Essences  or  ideas  —  and  that  occasionally  so  in- 
tensely as  to  lose  consciousness  of  what  is  round  him.  We 
all  do  the  same  in  a  degree  when  we  fall  into  a  reverie." 

Here  an  asterisk  brings  in  a  footnote,  as  follows: 

"The  power  of  his  Imagn  is  apparent  in  Every  page  of 
his  Endymn  —  &  He  has  affirmed  that  he  can  conceive  of  a 
billiard  Ball  that  it  may  have  a  sense  of  delight  from  its  own 
roundness,  smoothness  &  volubility  &  the  rapidity  of  its 
motion." 

Then  comes  a  paragraph  of  recapitulation,   after  which 
Woodhouse  goes  on: 

"This  being  his  idea  of  the  Poetical  Character  —  he  may 
well  say  that  a  poet  has  no  identity  —  as  a  Man  he  must 
have  Identity.  But  as  a  poet  he  need  not.  And  in  this 
Sense  a  poet  is  'the  most  unpoetical  of  God's  creatures.' 
for  his  soul  has  no  distinctive  characteristic  —  it  cannot 
be  itself  made  the  subj1  of  Poetry  that  is  another  persons 
soul  can  not  be  thrown  into  the  poet's  for  there  is  no  iden- 
tity or  personal  impulse  to  be  acted  upon ! 

Shakspr  was  a  poet  of  the  kind  above  mentd  —  and  he 
was  perhaps  the  only  one  besides  Keats  who  possessed  this 
power  in  an  extra  degree  .  .  . 


io4  JOHN  KEATS 

Ld  Byron  does  not  come  up  to  this  character.  He  can 
certainly  conceive  &  describe  a  dark  accomplished  vilain 
in  love.  &  a  female  tender  and  true  who  loves  him.  Or 
a  sated  &  palled  sensualist  misanthrope  &  Deist.  But 
here  his  power  ends.  The  true  poet  can  not  only  conceive 
this  —  but  can  assume  any  character  Essence  idea  or 
substance  at  pleasure.  &  he  has  this  imaginative  faculty 
not  in  a  limited  manner,  but  in  full  universality. 

Let  us  pursue  Speculation  on  these  Matters :  &  we  shall 
soon  be  bra*  to  believe  in  the  truth  of  every  Syllable  of 
Keats's  letter,  taken  as  a  description  of  himself  and  his 
own  ideas  and  feelgs." 

The  chief  thing  worth  preserving  in  this  commentary  is 
Keats's  observation  on  the  billiard-ball.  It  is  perfectly 
characteristic  and  highly  important.  What  the  psycholo- 
gists call  "organic  reaction"  is  here  present  to  a  superla- 
tive degree.  "Organic  reaction"  is  the  sudden  sensation 
of  physical  participation  in  the  action  of  an  object  seen, 
or  proper  to  a  word  pronounced.  For  instance,  the  word 
"wind"  will  give  a  person  with  strong  organic  reactions 
a  sense  of  being  buffeted  and  blown  upon  by  a  high  wind. 
Keats,  in  watching  the  billiard-ball,  felt  in  himself,  dis- 
tinctly and  coercingly,  the  sensations  which  he  imagined 
that  a  billiard-ball  must  have.  The  word  "volubility"  is 
arresting;  it  is  allied  to  the  "intellect"  of  the  water-fall  at 
Ambleside.1  That  Keats's  reactions  were  organic,  is 
obvious  to  every  careful  student  of  his  poetry,  but  here 
is  an  evidence  of  it  which  we  are  greatly  indebted  to 
Woodhouse  for  having  preserved. 

If  only  a  fraction  of  Woodhouse's  letter  were  taken  up 
with  the  "tarterly"  Quarterly  (to  borrow  Byron's  ex- 
pression), and  Keats  in  his  answer  ignored  the  subject 
entirely,  it  was,  nevertheless,  very  much  present  in  the 
minds  of  all  the  set.  What  was  to  be  done?  Clearly  the 
best  response  to  such  malice  was  to  publish  again  and  at 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  23. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          105 

once.  It  had  been  immediately  after  the  chilly  reception 
of  the  Poems  that  Keats  had  begun  Endymion.  But  for 
use  at  once,  what  was  there?  Nothing,  really,  but  the  Pot 
of  Basil  and  a  few  sonnets  and  short  lyrics.  The  Pot  of 
Basil  was  not  only  done,  but  copied  out  fair.  In  his  letter 
of  the  twenty-first  of  September  to  Reynolds,  then  in 
Devonshire,  Keats  had  said:  "Had  I  known  you  would 
have  set  out  so  soon  I  could  have  sent  you  the  'Pot  of 
Basil'  for  I  had  copied  it  out  ready."  Reynolds  returned 
to  town  early  in  October,  but  it  was  not  so  easy  for  him 
and  Keats  to  meet  as  it  had  been  hitherto.  Reynolds,  as 
articled  clerk  to  a  solicitor,  was  pretty  well  tied  down, 
and  Keats  could  only  leave  Tom  very  occasionally,  prob- 
ably just  when  some  friend  was  on  hand  to  spell  him.  By 
hook  or  by  crook,  however,  Reynolds  managed  to  get  out 
to  Well  Walk,  and  brought  back  with  him  the  Pot  of  Basil. 
This  was  on  Thursday,  October  thirteenth,  and  the  next 
morning,  in  the  fullness  of  his  heart  over  the  poem,  he 
wrote  a  long  letter  to  Keats.  It  is  not  difficult  to  see  why 
Keats  was  so  fond  of  Reynolds  after  reading  this  letter. 


DEAR  KEATS. 

I  was  most  delighted  at  seeing  you  yesterday,  —  for  I 
hardly  knew  how  I  was  to  meet  with  you,  situated  as  you 
are,  and  confined  as  I  am.  I  wish  I  could  have  stayed 
longer  with  you.  As  to  the  Poem  I  am  of  all  things  anxious 
that  you  should  publish  it,  for  its  completeness  will  be  a 
full  answer  to  all  the  ignorant  malevolence  of  cold  lying 
Scotchmen  and  stupid  Englishmen.  The  overweening 
struggle  to  oppress  you  only  shows  the  world  that  so  much 
of  Endeavour  cannot  be  directed  to  Nothing.  Men  do  not 
set  their  muscles,  and  strain  their  sinews  to  break  a  straw. 
I  am  confident,  Keats,  that  the  Pot  of  Basil  hath  that 
simplicity  and  quiet  pathos,  which  are  of  sure  sovereignty 
over  all  hearts.  I  must  say  that  it  would  delight  me  to 
have  you  prove  yourself  to  the  world,  what  we  know  you 

1  Given,  slightly  abridged,  from  a  transcription  of  the  original  letter 
made  by  Professor  Edward  S.  Burgess  of  New  York  University. 


io6  JOHN  KEATS 

to  be;  —  to  have  you  annul  the  Quarterly  Review,  by  the 
best  of  all  answers. 

When  I  see  you,  I  will  give  you  the  Poem  .  . .  And  let  us 
have  the  Tale  put  forth,  now  that  an  interest  is  aroused. 
One  or  two  of  your  Sonnets  you  might  print,  I  am  sure  .  . . 
You  will  remember  that  we  were  [to]  pu[t  out] l  together. 
I  give  over  all  intention  and  you  ought  to  be  alone.  I  can 
never  write  anything  now  —  my  mind  is  taken  the  other 
way;  —  But  I  shall  set  my  heart  on  having  you,  high,  as 
you  ought  to  be.  Do  you  get  Fame,  —  and  I  shall  have  it 
in  being  your  affectionate  and  steady  friend  .  .  . 

Your  ever  affectionate 

J.  H.  REYNOLDS." 

Keats  wanted  to  write,  longed  to  write,  but  how  could 
he,  with  Tom  in  the  state  that  he  was,  and  his  own  mind 
torn  by  so  many  conflicting  importunities?  He  seems  to 
have  made  an  effort  to  begin  Hyperion^  we  see  from  the 
reference  to  Saturn  and  Ops  in  the  letter  to  Woodhouse 
that  the  poem  was  beginning  to  "come  down/'  was  taking 
some  sort  of  shape  to  him.  Poems  often  float  in  a  sort  of 
nebulous  haze  —  bright,  but  without  contour;  alluring, 
yet  indefinite  — just  beyond  the  sphere  of  words.  So  un- 
doubtedly Hyperion  hung,  yet  what  of  it  he  got  on  paper 
during  the  Autumn  we  do  not  know.  Very  little,  I  im- 
agine, and  that  little  will,  I  believe,  be  found  in  the 
Vision  of  Hyperion^  not  in  Hyperion  proper.  The  reason 
for  my  belief  I  shall  state  in  a  later  chapter.  The  only 
other  poems  which  we  know  definitely  to  have  been  written 
before  Tom's  death,  were  a  translation  of  a  sonnet  by 
Ronsard,  sent  to  Reynolds  in  the  letter  of  September 
twenty-first,2  and  a  little  Prophecy  for  George  and  Geor- 
giana's  expected  child. 

Of  the  first,  little  need  be  said.  Keats  called  it  a  "free 
translation,"  and  explained  to  Reynolds  that  the  reason 

1  A  slight  tear,  and  a  red  seal,  make  the  words  bracketed  conjectural. 
*  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  says  that  the  letter  is  dated  "about  Sept.  22." 
Buxton  Forman  gives  the  date,  by  inference,  as  "21  or  22  September." 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          107 

why  the  sonnet  lacked  its  final  couplet  was  because  "I 
had  not  the  original  by  me  when  I  wrote  it,  and  did  not 
recollect  the  purport  of  the  last  lines."  As  a  matter  of  fact, 
the  translation  adheres  very  closely  to  the  original,  which, 
considering-  that  Keats  was  remembering  Ronsard's  lines 
merely,  shows  how  much  they  had  impressed  him.  Wood- 
house  had  lent  him  Ronsard's  poems,  and  his  opinion  of 
them  was  that  they  had  "great  Beauties/' 

The  Prophecy  was  sent  in  a  long  letter  to  George  and  his 
wife,  written  at  intervals  during  October.  It  is  ushered  in 
by  one  of  the  very  few  passages  of  political  discussion  to  be 
found  in  Keats's  letters.  I  quote  a  part  of  it: 

"...  as  for  Politics  they  are  in  my  opinion  only  sleepy  be- 
cause they  will  soon  be  too  wide  awake.  Perhaps  not  — 
for  the  long  and  continued  Peace  of  England  itself  has 
given  us  notions  of  personal  safety  which  are  likely  to 
prevent  the  reestablishment  of  our  national  Honesty. 
There  is,  of  a  truth,  nothing  manly  or  sterling  in  any  part 
of  the  Government.  There  are  many  Madmen  in  the 
Country,  I  have  no  doubt,  who  would  like  to  be  beheaded 
on  Tower  Hill  merely  for  the  sake  of  6clat;  there  are  many 
Men  like  Hunt  who  from  a  principle  of  taste  would  like  to 
see  things  go  on  better,  there  are  many  like  Sir  F.  Burdett 
who  like  to  sit  at  the  head  of  political  dinners,  —  but  there 
are  none  prepared  to  suffer  in  obscurity  for  their  Country. 
The  motives  of  our  worst  men  are  Interest  and  of  our  best 
Vanity.  We  have  no  Milton,  no  Algernon  Sidney —  Gov- 
ernors in  these  days  lose  the  title  of  Man  in  exchange  for 
that  of  Diplomat  and  Minister.  We  breathe  in  a  sort  of 
Officinal  Atmosphere.  All  the  departments  of  Govern- 
ment have  strayed  far  from  Simplicity,  which  is  the 
greatest  of  strength.  There  is  as  much  difference  in  this 
respect  between  the  present  Government  and  Oliver  Crom- 
well's as  there  is  between  the  12  Tables  of  Rome  and  the 
volumes  of  Civil  Law  which  were  digested  by  Justinian  .  .  . 
Notwithstanding  the  part  which  the  Liberals  take  in  the 
Cause  of  Napoleon  I  cannot  but  think  he  has  done  more 
harm  to  the  life  of  Liberty  than  any  one  else  could  have 


io8  JOHN  KEATS 

done:  not  that  the  divine  right  Gentlemen  have  done  or 
intend  to  do  any  good  —  no,  they  have  taken  a  Lesson 
from  him,  and  will  do  all  the  further  harm  he  would  have 
done  without  any  of  the  good.  The  worst  thing  he  has 
done  is,  that  he  has  taught  them  how  to  organize  their 
monstrous  armies.'1 

This  most  temperate  speech  is  certainly  not  the  out- 
pouring of  a  frenzied  radical.  Yet  Blackwood's  had  implied 
as  much  for  Keats  by  saying:  "We  had  almost  forgot  to 
mention  that  Keats  belongs  to  the  Cockney  School  of 
Politics,  as  well  as  the  Cockney  School  of  Poetry."  Since, 
in  the  eyes  of  "Z,"  the  Cockney  School  of  Politics  meant 
Leigh  Hunt  daring  to  point  the  finger  of  sarcastic  comment 
at  the  sacrosanct  person  of  Royalty  in  the  shape  of  George, 
Prince  of  Wales  ("Prinny,"  as  Hunt's  sympathizers  called 
him),  and  cheerfully  going  to  prison  as  a  corollary,  the  in- 
ference was  that  he,  and  Keats  along  with  him,  were  dan- 
gerous radicals  who  should,  at  all  costs,  be  suppressed. 
That  the  effort  at  suppression  at  least  was  real,  we  have 
seen  only  too  clearly.  I  have  lately  run  across  a  remark  of 
Hazlitt's  which  isso  little  known  and  so  pertinent  to  Keats's 
words  that  I  will  give  it  here.  In  1 824,  Hazlitt  was  abroad, 
and  in  Rome  he  met  an  old  friend,  long  absent  from  Eng- 
land, who  inquired  of  him  the  state  of  things  at  home.  "I 
told  him,"  says  Hazlitt,  "that  public  opinion  in  England 
was  at  present  governed  by  half  a  dozen  miscreants,  who 
undertook  to  bait,  hoot,  and  worry  every  man  out  of  his 
country,  or  into  an  obscure  grave,  with  lies  and  nicknames, 
who  was  not  prepared  to  take  the  political  sacrament  of  the 
day,  and  use  his  best  endeavours  (he  and  his  friends)  to 
banish  the  last  traces  of  freedom,  truth,  and  honesty  from 
the  land.  'To  be  direct  and  honest  is  not  safe.'  To  be  a 
Reformer,  the  friend  of  a  Reformer,  or  the  friend's  friend 
of  a  Reformer,  is  as  much  as  a  man's  peace,  reputation,  or 
even  life  is  worth.  Answer  if  it  is  not  so,  pale  shade  of 
Keats,  or  living  mummy  of  William  Gifford!"1 

1  Notes  of  a  Journey  through  France  and  Italy,  by  William  Hazlitt.  1826. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          109 

Keats  was  a  friend  of  reformers,  reformers  who  were  so, 
like  Hunt, "  from  a  principle  of  taste,"  but  that  was  enough. 
Keats  was  no  more  blind  to  the  state  of  affairs  than  was 
Hazlitt,  but  active  participation  in  such  things  was  not 
his  part;  he  commented  in  private,  but  said  no  word  in 
print,  as  he  might  easily  have  done  through  the  medium  of 
the  Examiner.  That  he  felt  no  desire  to  air  his  views  in 
public  gives  the  measure  of  his  interest  in  such  subjects, 
which  was,  in  truth,  very  slight. 

I  have  wandered  far  from  the  Prophecy,  yet  this  poem 
was  the  direct  result  of  his  political  cogitations,  for,  fol- 
lowing the  passage  I  have  quoted,  Keats  gives  his  opinion 
of  America,  a  country  of  which  he  knew  nothing  and  the 
idea  of  which  distinctly  repelled  him.  This  is  what  he 
says: 

"Dilke,  whom  you  know  to  be  a  Godwin  perfecta- 
bility  Man,  pleases  himself  with  the  idea  that  America 
will  be  the  country  to  take  up  the  human  intellect  where 
England  leaves  off  —  I  differ  there  with  him  greatly.  A 
country  like  the  United  States,  whose  greatest  men  are 
Franklins  and  Washingtons,  will  never  do  that.  They  are 
great  Men  doubtless,  but  how  are  they  to  be  compared  to 
those  our  country-men  Milton  and  the  two  Sydney s?  The 
one  is  a  philosophical  Quaker  full  of  mean  and  thrifty 
maxims,  the  other  sold  the  very  Charger  who  had  taken  him 
through  all  his  Battles.  Those  Americans  are  great,  but 
they  are  not  sublime  Man  —  the  humanity  of  the  United 
States  can  never  reach  the  sublime.  Birkbeck's  mind  is  too 
much  in  the  American  style  —  you  must  endeavour  to  in- 
fuse a  little  Spirit  of  another  sort  into  the  settlement ...  If 
I  had  a  prayer  to  make  for  any  great  good,  next  to  Tom's 
recovery,  it  should  be  that  one  of  your  Children  should  be 
the  first  American  Poet.  I  have  a  great  mind  to  make  a 
prophecy,  and  they  say  prophecies  work  out  their  own  ful- 
fillment —  " 

Here  follows  the  poem  beginning: 

"  Tis '  the  witching  time  of  night ' " 


i  io  JOHN  KEATS 

and  ending: 

"  Little  Child 
O'  th'  western  wild 
A  Poet  now  or  never!" 

Unfortunately  it  was  "never."  American  literature  can 
boast  no  poet  of  the  name  of  Keats,  and  the  name  itself 
is  now  on  the  road  to  extinction.1  The  poem  was  clearly 
an  impromptu,  and  as  such  is  pleasant.  The  idea  of  a 
flaming  lyre  perching  on  the  top  of  the  cradle,  which  no 
one  dare  touch,  but  which  the  child  seizes  and  plays  upon, 
is  a  pretty  conceit. 

The  Ronsard  sonnet  and  the  Prophecy  hardly  counted, 
however,  and  Hyperion  simply  would  not  march.  Keats 
tells  George  that  he  is  going  to  start  on  a  prose  tale,  as  his 
mind  is  too  active  to  remain  idle,  and  he  has  "  too  many 
interruptions  to  a  train  of  feeling  to  be  able  to  write 
Poetry."  But  even  the  prose  tale  could  not  get  written. 
Tom,  Tom,  Tom  —  his  heart  was  full  of  Tom,  who  "looks 
upon  me  as  his  only  comfort,"  he  writes  to  George.  Yet, 
even  in  the  midst  of  all  this  misery,  he  never  loses  his  sense 
of  direction.  At  bottom,  he  knows  himself  a  dedicated 
being:  "The  only  thing  that  can  ever  affect  me  personally 
for  more  than  one  short  passing  day,  is  any  doubt  about 
my  powers  of  poetry  —  I  seldom  have  any,  and  I  look 
with  hope  to  the  nighing  time  when  I  shall  have  none." 
Proud  words,  but  prouder  still  are  those  earlier  in  this 
same  letter  where  he  is  speaking  of  the  reviews:  "I  think  I 
shall  be  among  the  English  poets  after  my  death."  This 
was  no  bombast,  but  the  simple  statement  of  a  position 
which  he  recognized  rather  as  a  responsibility  than  any- 
thing else. 

Youth  naturally  looks  forward,  but  Keats  seemed  to  be 
at  a  dead  stop  where  no  plans  could  be  made.  If  he 

1  George  Keats  had  eight  children,  but  only  two  sons.  There  are  many 
of  his  descendants  in  America  to-day,  but  only  one,  a  woman,  who  bears  the 
name  of  Keats. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          in 

glimpsed  the  idea  of  spending  a  year  with  George  in 
America,  one  look  at  Tom  was  enough  to  send  the  vision 
dissolving  in  smoke.  He  could  not  talk  over  such  plans 
with  Tom,  he  could  not  even  ask  Tom  if  he  wanted  to 
send  a  message  to  George,  the  effect  of  any  recalling  of 
his  distant  brother  to  the  mind  of  the  sick  boy  was  too 
devastating,  for  he,  certainly,  would  never  see  George 
again. 

Yet  once  more,  in  this  same  letter,  the  leit-motif  of  sex 
becomes  clearly  audible,  and  this  time  it  is  the  lady  met 
at  Hastings  who  is  responsible.  Keats  encountered  her 
quite  unexpectedly  "in  a  street  which  goes  from  Bedford 
Row  to  Lamb's  Conduit  Street."  First  Keats  passed  her; 
then,  thinking  better  of  it,  turned  back  and  joined  her. 
They  walked  on  "  towards  Islington,"  where  the  lady  paid 
a  call,  and  then  back  to  the  lady's  lodgings  in  Gloucester 
Street,  Queen  Square.  Her  sitting-room  Keats  describes 
as  "a  very  tasty  sort  of  place  with  Books,  Pictures,  a 
bronze  statue  of  Buonaparte,  Music,  aeolian  Harp;  a 
Parrot,  a  Linnet,  a  Case  of  choice  Liqueurs  &c.  &c.  &c." 
Whoever  this  woman  was,  she  had  a  heart  and  was  quick 
at  detecting  atmospheres.  She  gave  Keats  a  grouse  for 
Tom's  dinner,  but  would  not  let  him  kiss  her  at  parting. 
This  episode  he  recounts  with  such  charming  naivete  that 
I  will  give  it  in  his  own  words.  It  is  not  quite  the  trivial 
matter  it  appears  to  be  at  first  glance,  rather  is  it  the 
cat's-paw  which  indicates  a  change  of  wind. 

"As  I  had  warmed  with  her  before  and  kissed  her  I 
thought  it  would  be  living  backwards  not  to  do  so  again  — 
she  had  a  better  taste:  she  perceived  how  much  a  thing  of 
course  it  was  and  shrunk  from  it  —  not  in  a  prudish  way 
but  in  as  I  say  a  good  taste  . . .  She  said  I  should  please  her 
much  more  if  I  would  only  press  her  hand  and  go  away. 
Whether  she  was  in  a  different  disposition  when  I  saw  her 
before  —  or  whether  I  have  in  fancy  wrong'd  her  I  cannot 
tell." 


ii2  JOHN  KEATS 

Wronged  or  not,  the  lady  met  at  Hastings  was  a  kindly 
and  an  astute  woman.  What  she  saw  was  that  Keats  was 
quite  different  from  the  boy  with  whom,  a  year  and  a  half 
before  at  Bo  Peep,  she  had  flirted  lightly  and  inconse- 
quentially as  seaside  vacationists  have  always  done  and 
always  will  do.  This  man,  standing  with  the  parrot,  and 
the  linnet,  and  the  statue  of  Bonaparte  in  her  little  sitting- 
room,  was  another  being  entirely,  one  already  marked  by 
experience,  a  man  who  knew  suffering,  who  faced  tribula- 
tion, who  had  been  stormed  upon  and  would  not  yield. 
And  he  did  not  want  to  kiss  her,  only  offered  to  do  so  as  a 
polite  attention.  This  experienced  woman  saw  all  this  and 
more  —  she  saw  a  preoccupation,  an  aloofness,  a  perplexed 
space  on  which  she  could  not  enter.  Keats  goes  on  to  ex- 
plain to  George  that  he  has  "no  libidinous  thought  about 
her  —  she  and  your  George  are  the  only  women  a  peu  pres 
de  mon  age  whom  I  would  be  content  to  know  for  their 
mind  and  friendship  alone."  If  Keats  were  so  susceptible 
as  this,  how  came  it  that  a  woman  whom  he  had  previously 
found  desirable  left  him  completely  passive?  There  is,  I 
think,  one  answer,  and  one  only  —  Fanny  Brawne  was  in 
Hampstead  and  Keats  had  met  her.  I  must  defer  speak- 
ing of  Fanny  Brawne  for  a  few  pages  yet,  but  as  she  is  the 
aura  over  this  Autumn  afternoon  episode,  and  the  con- 
cealed cause  of  a  very  important  passage  in  the  long  letter 
to  George,  I  must  at  least  hint  of  her  here  as  the  clue  to 
both.  The  passage  in  question  follows  immediately  upon 
Keats's  account  of  his  afternoon: 

"  I  shall  in  a  short  time  write  you  as  far  as  I  know  how  I 
intend  to  pass  my  Life  —  I  cannot  think  of  those  things 
now  Tom  is  so  unwell  and  weak.  Notwithstanding  your 
Happiness  and  your  recommendation  I  hope  I  shall  never 
marry.  Though  the  most  beautiful  Creature  were  waiting 
for  me  at  the  end  of  a  Journey  or  a  Walk;  though  the 
Carpet  were  of  Silk,  the  Curtains  of  the  morning  Clouds; 
the  chairs  and  Sofa  stuffed  with  cygnet's  down;  the  food 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          113 

Manna,  the  Wine  beyond  Claret,  the  Window  opening  on 
Winander  mere,  I  should  not  feel  —  or  rather  my  Happi- 
ness would  not  be  so  fine,  as  my  Solitude  is  sublime.  Then 
instead  of  what  I  have  described  there  is  a  sublimity  to 
welcome  me  home.  The  roaring  of  the  wind  is  my  wife  and 
the  Stars  through  the  window  pane  are  my  Children.  The 
mighty  abstract  Idea  I  have  of  Beauty  in  all  things  stifles 
the  more  divided  and  minute  domestic  happiness  —  an 
amiable  wife  and  sweet  Children  I  contemplate  as  a  part  of 
that  Beauty,  but  I  must  have  a  thousand  of  those  beautiful 
particles  to  fill  up  my  heart.  I  feel  more  and  more  every 
day,  as  my  imagination  strengthens,  that  I  do  not  live  in 
this  world  alone  but  in  a  thousand  worlds.  No  sooner  am  I 
alone  than  shapes  of  epic  greatness  are  stationed  around 
me  .  . .  According  to  my  state  of  mind  I  am  with  Achilles 
shouting  in  the  Trenches,  or  with  Theocritus  in  the  Vales  of 
Sicily.  Or  I  throw  my  whole  being  into  Troilus,  and  re- 
peating those  lines,  'I  wander  like  a  lost  Soul  upon  the 
Stygian  Banks  staying  for  waftage,'  I  melt  into  the  air 
with  a  voluptuousness  so  delicate  that  I  am  content  to  be 
alone.  These  things,  combined  with  the  opinion  I  have  of 
the  generality  of  women  —  who  appear  to  me  as  children 
to  whom  I  would  rather  give  a  sugar  Plum  than  my  time, 
form  a  barrier  against  Matrimony  which  I  rejoice  in. 

I  have  written  this  that  you  might  see  I  have  my  share  of 
the  highest  pleasures  and  that  though  I  may  choose  to  pass 
my  days  alone  I  shall  be  no  Solitary.  You  see  there  is 
nothing  spleenical  in  all  this  ...  I  am  as  happy  as  a  Man 
can  be  —  that  is  in  myself  I  should  be  happy  if  Tom  was 
well,  and  I  knew  you  were  passing  pleasant  days.  Then  I 
should  be  most  enviable  —  with  the  yearning  Passion  I 
have  for  the  beautiful,  connected  and  made  one  with  the 
ambition  of  my  intellect." 

This  was  very  likely  written  on  the  same  day  that  Keats 
wrote  to  Woodhouse,  for  the  passage  is  near  the  end  of 
the  letter,  which  was  finally  finished  on  Keats' s  birthday, 
October  twenty-ninth.  Certainly  the  idea  of  his  being 
"with  Achilles"  or  "with  Troilus"  is  the  same  as  the 
whole  purport  of  the  Woodhouse  letter.  But  what  does  this 


ii4  JOHN  KEATS 

passage  as  a  whole  mean  —  that  Keats  really  dreaded  the 
idea  of  marriage  and  regarded  the  sex  in  general  with 
cynical  disdain?  Scarcely  this,  I  think.  Let  us  take  the 
disdain  first,  since  it  has  been  made  a  distinct  point  of 
attack  by  many  critics.  Because  Keats  was  a  great  poet, 
we  are  apt  to  forget  that  he  was  also  a  very  young  and 
inexperienced  man.  The  pronouncements  of  a  boy  of 
twenty-three  in  regard  to  the  opposite  sex  are  not  to  be 
taken  too  seriously,  even  when  that  boy  is  also  a  genius. 
After  all,  on  what  basis  had  Keats  built  his  opinion? 
Why,  on  the  extremely  insecure  one  of  the  women  he  had 
known,  to  be  sure.  Just  so,  and  who  were  these  women? 
The  Matthew  girls,  the  Reynolds  sisters,  Mrs.  Dilke, 
Mrs.  Hunt  —  nice  women,  all  of  them,  but  not  especially 
remarkable  in  any  way.  We  get  no  impression  of  intellect 
from  one  or  another,  not  a  single  member  of  the  group 
seems  to  have  been  the  kind  of  woman  with  whom  Keats 
could  have  discussed  literature  on  any  plane  of  equality. 
The  men,  on  the  other  hand,  were  distinctly  intellectual, 
even  those  who  have  left  no  name  to  posterity.  Apart 
from  the  obviously  unusual  men,  like  Hazlitt,  and  Hunt, 
and  Haydon,  there  was  a  high  degree  of  interest  in  literary 
affairs,  and  much  critical  acumen,  displayed  by  all  the 
group.  Of  course,  Keats,  being  what  he  was,  naturally 
gravitated  toward  men  of  mental  power.  The  women  he 
knew  were  simply  the  appendages  to  these  men.  Keats 
took  them  as  they  came,  but  long  before  his  twenty-third 
year  he  had  discovered  that,  whatever  they  gave  him,  it 
was  not  poetic  stimulus;  so  far  as  poetry  or  intellect  was 
concerned,  time  spent  with  them  was  wasted.  Out  of  this 
grew  the  assumption  that  they  were  children  merely,  in  all 
things  which  had  to  do  solely  with  mind.  Note,  however, 
that  Keats  carefully  says  "the  generality  of  women," 
which  leaves  room  for  a  possible  half-believed-in  exception. 
Yet  so  little  credence  had  he  in  his  own  exception,  that,  in 
the  heat  of  his  desire  to  create,  he  positively  feared  the 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          115 

advent  to  himself  of  anything  like  passion.  Absorption  in  a 
woman  meant  less  concentration  on  poetry,  or  he  imagined 
that  it  would,  and  that  idea  he  could  not  brook,  and  all  the 
more  because  he  felt  it  stealing  upon  him.  All  the  stuff 
about  silken  curtains  and  swan's-down  sofas,  was,  I  regret 
to  say,  nonsense  and  rhodomontade.  For  once,  Keats  was 
not  perfectly  sincere.  This  is  rhetoric,  a  fault  of  which  he 
was  seldom  guilty;  but  he  had  himself  to  convince  as  well 
as  his  brother  and  sister.  How  differently  he  wrote  when 
he  had  nothing  to  hide,  no  a  priori  thesis  to  maintain. 
His  sister-in-law  he  loved  and  admired,  she  was  "  a  glorious 
human  being";  he  had  no  dread  of  her,  she  was  George's 
wife,  which  fact  lifted  a  load  off  his  mind  by  placing  her 
outside  the  orbit  of  his  growing  sexual  consciousness.  He 
could  speak  freely  to  her,  and  he  did.  This  is  what  he  says: 

"Your  content  in  each  other  is  a  delight  to  me  which  I 
cannot  express  —  the  Moon  is  now  shining  full  and 
brilliant  —  she  is  the  same  to  me  in  Matter,  what  you  are 
to  me  in  Spirit.  If  you  were  here  my  dear  Sister  I  could  not 
pronounce  the  words  which  I  can  write  to  you  from  a 
distance:  I  have  a  tenderness  for  you,  and  an  admiration 
which  I  feel  to  be  as  great  and  more  chaste  than  I  can  have 
for  any  woman  in  the  world. " 

The  pity  of  Georgiana's  departure!  Keats  had  always 
needed  a  sister  and  never  more  than  now.  Fanny  was  too 
young;  but  then,  I  fear,  Georgiana  was  that  also  at  this 
period.  As  things  were,  he  was  obliged  to  meet  the  huge 
problem  of  sex  alone,  a  problem  with  which  he  was,  as  yet, 
totally  unfitted  to  cope. 

Early  in  November,  a  peculiar  thing  happened.  Keats 
received  an  anonymous,  laudatory  sonnet  enclosing  a 
twenty-five  pound  note.  This  communication  was  ad- 
dressed to  him  at  Teignmouth,  from  which  place  it  had  been 
forwarded  to  Taylor  and  Hessey.  Naturally  Keats  was 
pleased  at  this  evidence  of  sympathy,  but  he  was  rather 


ii6  JOHN    KEATS 

nonplussed  by  the  bank-note.  He  kept  it,  however  (what 
else  could  he  do?),  "if  I  had  refused  it,"  he  wrote  to 
George,  "I  should  have  behaved  in  a  very  braggadocio 
dunderheaded  manner  —  and  yet  the  present  galls  me  a 
little,  and  I  do  not  know  whether  I  shall  not  return  it  if  I 
ever  meet  with  the  donor,  after  whom  to  no  purpose  have  I 
written."  It  has  never  been  discovered  who  the  donor  was. 

In  the  mean  time,  for  all  these  diverse  threads  and 
threadlets  of  varying  interests,  Keats  was  really  seeing 
very  few  people.  "I  have  been  but  once  to  Haydon's, 
once  to  Hunt's,  once  to  Rice's,  once  to  Hessey's.  I  have 
not  seen  Taylor,  I  have  not  been  to  the  Theatre."  This  was 
the  state  of  affairs  in  the  middle  of  October,  when  he  had 
been  back  in  Hampstead  for  two  months.  He  made  a  point 
of  going  to  Mrs.  Wylie's  as  often  as  he  could  on  Georgiana's 
account,  but  these  calls  at  this  time  numbered  only  two. 
Tom,  and  Tom  only,  was  his  chief  concern.  The  difficulty 
of  procuring  Abbey's  consent  to  Fanny's  visits  was  a  con- 
stant source  of  trouble  and  misery.  On  one  of  them, 
Keats  had  taken  her  to  call  on  some  of  his  friends,  which 
incensed  Abbey,  who  knew  nothing  of  the  people  in  ques- 
tion and  distrusted  any  one  who  was  a  friend  of  John's. 
After  this,  Keats  wrote  to  Fanny  suggesting,  very  covertly, 
that  she  should  not  mention  her  doings  at  Hampstead  to 
the  Abbeys.  His  endeavour  to  convey  the  idea  without 
exactly  countenancing  deceit  is  very  amusing.  Having 
floundered  somewhat  awkwardly  in  making  his  counsel 
balance  with  his  ideas  of  sincerity,  he  ends  with  the  pa- 
thetic quibble:  "Perhaps  I  am  talking  too  deeply  for  you: 
if  you  do  not  know  now,  you  will  understand  what  I  mean 
in  the  course  of  a  few  years."  Since  Fanny  was  fifteen,  and 
by  no  means  a  stupid  girl,  she  was  probably  perfectly 
capable  of  appreciating  John's  sophistry  and  being  enter- 
tained by  it. 

On  November  fifth,  Keats  wrote  to  Fanny  that  he  had 
seen  Abbey  three  times  to  beg  him  to  let  her  come  and  see 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          117 

Tom,  but  had  not  been  able  to  get  his  consent.  "He  says 
that  once  more  between  this  and  the  Holydays  will  be 
sufficient/'  Keats  reports.  Incredible  callousness  to  keep  a 
sister  from  a  dying  brother!  And  I  think  the  "once 
more"  never  took  place.  Tom  was  sinking  rapidly;  he  died 
just  as  the  sun  was  rising  on  the  morning  of  December  first. 
Worn  out  with  nursing,  overwhelmed  with  grief,  Keats 
stumbled  out  in  the  early  morning  sunlight  to  find  Brown, 
to  whom  he  had  grown  very  close  during  the  months  in 
Scotland.  Brown  has  told  the  story  of  their  meeting,  he 
says: 

1  "Early  the  next  morning,  I  was  awakened  in  bed  by  a 
pressure  on  my  hand.  It  was  Keats,  who  came  to  tell  me 
that  his  brother  was  no  more.  I  said  nothing,  and  we  both 
remained  silent  for  a  while,  my  hand  fast  locked  in  his.  At 
length,  my  thoughts  returning  from  the  dead  to  the  living, 

1  said,  —  '  Have  nothing  more  to  do  with  those  lodgings  — 
and  alone  too!    Had  you  not  better  live  with  me?'    He 
paused,  pressed  my  hand  warmly,  and  replied,  'I  think  it 
would  be  better/  From  that  moment  he  was  my  inmate/ 

That  same  day  Brown  wrote  to  Woodhouse.  The  letter  is 
dated  "Hampstead,  Tuesday  Ist  December"  and  says: 

2  SIR: 

Mr.  Keats  requests  me  to  inform  you  his  brother  Thomas 
died  this  morning  at  8  o'clock  quietly  and  without  pain. 
Mr.  Keats  is  pretty  well  and  desires  to  be  remembered  to 
you. 

I  am,  Sir,  your  obed'  &  hum.  Serv't 

CHAS  BROWN." 

It  has  always  been  thought  that  Tom  Keats  died  in  the 
night,  but  in  this  note  we  have  direct  proof  to  the  contrary. 
There  is  an  odd  contradiction  here,  nevertheless,  for  Keats 
wrote  to  his  sister,  telling  her  that  Tom  had  been  so  ill  he 

1  Quoted  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  in  his  Life  of  John  Keats. 
8  Unpublished  Letter.  Author's  Collection. 


ii8  JOHN  KEATS 

had  delayed  her  visit,  and  adding  "I  cannot  say  he  is  any 
better  this  morning  —  he  is  in  a  very  dangerous  state  —  I 
have  scarce  any  hopes  of  him."  This  letter  is  dated  "Tues- 
day Morn"  and  postmarked  "Hampstead  i  December 
1 8 1 8."  If  Tom  were  already  dead,  why  did  Keats  write  to 
Fanny  as  though  he  were  alive?  The  answer  is,  I  am  con- 
fident, one  of  two  things.  Either  Keats  wrote  this  letter  to 
Fanny  to  prepare  her  before  going  to  see  her  and  telling  her 
in  person;  or  Keats  wrote  the  letter  very  early  in  the 
morning  before  Tom  died  and  posted  it  just  the  same,  again 
with  the  idea  of  preparation.  It  is  just  possible  that  Keats's 
landlord,  being  a  postman,  may  have  taken  the  letter  to 
the  post-office  when  he  started  on  his  duties,  which  would 
very  probably  have  been  before  eight  o'clock,  but  this 
seems  so  little  likely  that  I  think  it  may  be  dismissed. 

Poor  little  Tom  was  dead,  and  Keats  was  desolate  in- 
deed. The  idea  of  writing  to  George  was  terrible  to  him, 
and  Haslam  took  on  himself  the  sad  duty.  Tom  was 
buried  on  Thursday,  December  third,  in  St.  Stephen's 
Church,  Coleman  Street,  where  his  father  and  grand- 
mother were  also  buried. 

We  know  very  little  of  Tom  Keats.  What  little  we  do 
know  shows  him  to  have  been  an  eager,  intelligent,  and 
affectionate  fellow.  We  have  George's  word  for  it  that  he 
understood  John  better  than  any  one  else  did,  and  we  can 
see  from  John's  letters  to  him  from  Scotland  how  close  the 
tie  between  them  was.  What,  then,  can  be  the  meaning  of  a 
passage  in  an  unpublished  letter  from  Bailey  to  Taylor? 
The  same  letter,  indeed,  which  told  the  story  of  Bailey's 
meeting  with  Lockhart.  At  the  time  when  Bailey  wrote 
(August  twenty-ninth)  Tom  was  known  to  be  very  ill;  it 
was  not,  indeed,  expected  that  he  could  live  as  long  as  he 
did.  Bailey's  words  are  these: 

l"I  do  not  well  know  what  to  think,  whether  good  or 
1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Collection. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          119 

bad  of  this  young  man;  if  it  happen.  It  looks  harsh  to  say 
it  is  happy;  and  yet  from  his  character  he  must  have  lived 
a  life  of  discomfort  to  himself  &  those  with  whom  he  was 
connected,  if  the  character  I  have  heard  of  him  be  just.11 

What  on  earth  was  the  character  Bailey  had  heard  of  him? 
We  would  give  much  to  know.  Whatever  it  was,  Bailey 
declared  himself  "religiously  persuaded,  all  is  for  the  best." 
Very  easy  for  Bailey  to  say,  very  conventional,  very  cold 
and  unfeeling.  Bailey  the  curate  was  fast  murdering 
Bailey  the  man.  Sinister  though  his  remarks  appear  to  be, 
I  feel  sure,  from  the  other  evidence  at  hand,  that  all 
Bailey's  suggested  charges  amount  to  is  that  Tom  was  im- 
patient with  the  cruelty  of  his  fate,  that  he  could  not  look 
calmly  forward  to  a  life  of  invalidism.  Could  any  young 
man  of  nineteen?  Bailey's  clay  feet  peep  from  under  his 
canonical  robes  very  plainly  in  this  passage.  His  useful- 
ness to  Keats  was  over;  the  friendship  was  nearing  its 
term. 

Tom's  death  left  Keats  peculiarly  alone.  As  he  told 
George,  he  still  had  Fanny  and  George  and  Georgiana. 
But  Fanny  was  under  Abbey's  roof  and  Abbey's  jurisdic- 
tion, and  John  was  not  a  welcome  visitor  at  Pancras  Lane 
or  Walthamstow,  while  George  and  Georgiana  were  half  a 
world  away,  and  distance,  if  it  weakened  no  jot  of  the 
brothers'  affection,  did  at  least  forbid  the  daily  intimacy 
so  necessary  to  continued  understanding.  Under  these 
circumstances,  Brown's  invitation  to  Keats  to  come  and 
live  with  him  was  a  godsend.  Brown  had  no  family  to  be 
considered,  and  he  and  Keats  had  sampled  their  power  of 
getting  on  together  during  the  trying  Scotch  trip.  They 
had  no  discoveries  to  make  about  each  other;  their  "do- 
mesticating" together  (the  word  is  Keats's)  was  bound  to 
work,  and  it  did. 

Wentworth  Place  was,  as  I  have  said,1  a  double  house, 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  469. 


120  JOHN  KEATS 

jointly  owned  by  Dilke  and  Brown.  Dilke's  half  was 
the  larger,  Brown,  being  a  bachelor,  needing  less  room. 
Brown's  part  of  the  house  consisted  of  two  sitting-rooms, 
front  and  back,  on  the  ground  floor,  the  first  looking  on 
the  road,  the  last  into  the  garden,  which  was  not  divided, 
but  enjoyed  in  common  by  the  two  families;  upstairs  were 
two  corresponding  bedrooms,  front  and  back,  and  some- 
where a  small  cubby-hole  in  which  a  guest  could  be  put  up 
for  the  night.  The  arrangement  was  that  Keats  should 
have  the  front  parlour  and  Brown  the  back.  If  Brown's 
windows  opened  on  the  garden,  Keats's  commanded  a 
view  of  Hampstead  Heath  across  the  road,  so  it  was  a 
toss-up  which  had  the  most  agreeable  outlook.  Keats 
was  to  pay  his  share  of  the  living  expenses,  and  each  was  to 
pursue  the  ordinary  tenor  of  his  life,  working  in  their 
different  studies.  Keats  was  glad  to  escape  the  noise  of 
the  Bentley  children,  and  altogether  the  arrangement 
offered  many  advantages.  Apparently  Keats  did  not 
move  his  goods  and  chattels  from  the  Well  Walk  lodgings 
for  some  weeks,  but  I  think  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  is  wrong  in 
considering  Brown  mistaken  in  saying  that  Keats  came 
to  him  permanently  on  the  very  day  that  Tom  died,  for 
Keats  himself  wrote  George,  sometime  in  December: 
"Brown  detained  me  at  his  House."  What  seems  to  have 
happened  was  that  Keats  came  at  once  to  Brown's,  but 
had  neither  the  strength  nor  the  fortitude  to  get  his  things 
together  and  break  up  the  old  home  for  some  weeks  after 
Tom's  death. 

There  can  be  no  exaggeration  of  the  blow  which  Tom's 
death  was  to  John,  and  the  courage  with  which  he  faced 
the  great  task  of  reorganizing  his  life  was  utterly  admi- 
rable. But  his  nerves  were  badly  shaken;  morbid  fancies 
assailed  him.  On  one  occasion,  a  white  rabbit  strayed  into 
the  Wentworth  Place  garden  and  Dilke  shot  it.  Keats  was 
very  much  upset  by  the  occurrence,  declaring  that  the 
rabbit  was  Tom's  spirit.  No  reasons  nor  arguments  had  the 


w  * 
o 


B 
h 
PC 


h 
X 

W 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          121 

slightest  effect  upon  him  and  he  held  to  his  opinion  so 
earnestly  that  when  the  rabbit,  cooked  and  dished,  ap- 
peared on  the  table,  no  one  felt  any  inclination  to  eat  it, 
and  it  was  sent  away  untouched.  Yet,  even  when  in  the 
clutches  of  painful  imaginings  such  as  this,  deep  in  his 
mind  Keats  knew,  and  his  friends  knew,  that  he  must 
begin  to  live  a  life  among  people  again  as  soon  as  possible. 
It  was  for  this  reason,  undoubtedly,  that  they  insisted  upon 
his  going  to  the  prize-fight  between  Jack  Randall  and  Ned 
Turner,  on  Saturday,  December  fifth.  This  famous  fight 
took  place  at  Crawley  Hurst  in  Sussex,  so  that  the  excur- 
sion must  have  been  an  all  day  affair.  The  weather  was 
wretched,  but  "that  did  not  prevent  a  great  crowd  from 
assembling." 1  The  excitement  was  tremendous.  It  was 
said  that  thirty  thousand  pounds  had  been  wagered  on  the 
result.  It  was  an  event  of  prime  importance  to  the  sporting 
world,  and  one  which  no  young  man  interested  in  boxing 
could  afford  to  miss.  Keats's  interest  in  boxing  may  have 
waned  at  this  time,  but  Reynolds  was  at  hand  to  revive  it, 
and  as  both  Turner  and  Randall  had  trained  at  Hamp- 
stead  Heath,  Keats,  who  had  probably  watched  them  at 
work  many  times,  was  naturally  interested  in  the  fight. 
Interest  in  it  was  in  the  air.  Pierce  Egan,  in  describing 
the  encounter  and  the  day,  says:  "The  interest  excited  in 
the  Metropolis  on  the  above  night  upon  this  event,  to 
those  persons  out  of  the  ring,  may  appear  like  a  romance. 
Hundreds  were  waiting  at  the  turnpike  gates,  along  the 
road,  to  learn  who  had  won."  Randall  was  the  victor  in 
the  thirty-fourth  round. 

Who  Keats's  companions  at  Crawley  Hurst  were,  we  are 
not  told.  It  is  no  matter.  The  important  thing  for  us  to 
note  is  the  wisdom  and  sanity  on  their  parts,  and  on 
Keats's,  which  led  him  to  make  one  of  the  crowd  who 
trooped  into  Sussex  that  day. 

The  first  weeks  after  Tom's  death  must  have  been 

1  The  Story  of  Boxing,  by  Trevor  C.  Wignall. 


122  JOHN  KEATS 

bitter  ones  indeed.  Keats's  friends  evidently  felt  that  he 
must  be  helped  to  regain  his  footing  upon  life,  and  as  an 
occasion  like  the  Randall-Turner  fight  could  not  be  hap- 
pened on  every  day,  they  tried  to  think  of  other  things. 
An  opportunity  to  help  in  this  effort  came  to  Woodhouse 
early  in  December.  Woodhouse  had  a  cousin,  a  Miss 
Frogley,  who  lived  at  Hounslow.  To  her,  Woodhouse  had 
lent  a  copy  of  Endymion.  Before  she  had  time  to  read  it, 
however,  it  was  begged  of  her  by  a  Mr.  Henry  Neville, 
"house  surgeon  to  the  late  Princess  Charlotte,"  Wood- 
house  remarks,  by  way  of  introduction.  One  day,  Miss 
Jane  Porter,  then  in  the  height  of  her  fame  as  the  author 
of  the  popular  romances  Thaddeus  of  Warsaw  and  The 
Scottish  Chiefs,  saw  the  book  on  Neville's  table,  and  in  her 
turn  borrowed  it.  She  returned  it  with  a  letter  in  which 
she  spoke  of  the  "very  rare  delight"  it  had  given  her  and 
her  sister,  and  hoped  that  "  the  ill-natured  review  will  not 
have  damped  such  true  Parnassian  fire."  But  more  than 
this,  she  regretted  that  Mr.  Neville  did  not  know  the 
author  as  she  would  have  liked  to  make  his  acquaintance. 
Miss  Frogley  sent  this  letter  to  Woodhouse,  who  enclosed 
it  to  Keats,  pointing  out  to  him  that  this  was  an  opening 
"for  an  introduction  to  a  Class  of  society  from  which  you 
may  possibly  derive  advantage,  as  well  as  gratification, 
if  you  think  proper  to  avail  yourself  of  it."  Keats  did  not 
think  proper,  or,  at  least,  not  at  the  moment.  Woodhouse 
wrote  on  December  tenth,  Keats  did  not  answer  until  the 
eighteenth.  He  found  the  suggestion  gratifying,  but  not  of 
epochal  significance.  Among  other  things,  he  said: 

"  I  should  like  very  much  to  know  those  ladies  —  though 
look  here,  Woodhouse  —  I  have  a  new  leaf  to  turn  over:  I 
must  work;  I  must  read;  I  must  write.  I  am  unable  to 
afford  time  for  new  acquaintances.  I  am  scarcely  able  to 
do  my  duty  by  those  I  have.  Leave  the  matter  to  chance." 

That  chance  was  very  unlikely  to  cross  Keats's  orbit 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          123 

with  that  of  Miss  Porter,  he  probably  realized  quite  well, 
although,  a  little  later,  he  did  say  to  George: 

"I  will  be  introduced  to  them  if  it  be  merely  for  the 
pleasure  of  writing  to  you  about  it  —  I  shall  certainly  see  a 
new  race  of  People.  I  shall  more  certainly  have  no  time  for 
them." 

The  introduction  never  took  place;  Keats  had  no  love  for 
the  literary  blue  stocking. 

It  was  not  until  the  middle  of  December  (at  least  that 
seems  to  be  the  time  when  the  letter  was  begun)  that 
Keats  could  bring  himself  to  write  again  to  his  brother  and 
sister-in-law  in  America.  Then  he  was  able  to  say  to 
them:  "I  have  scarce  a  doubt  of  immortality  of  some 
nature  or  other  —  neither  had  Tom."  This  is  important,  as 
it  shows  how  gradually  his  religious  belief  left  him.  Later, 
he  lost  his  belief  in  any  future  after  death.  Farther  on  in 
the  letter,  he  adds: 

"There  you  are  with  Birkbeck  —  here  I  am  with  Brown 
—  sometimes  I  fancy  an  immense  separation,  and  some- 
times as  at  present,  a  direct  communication  of  Spirit  with 
you.  That  will  be  one  of  the  grandeurs  of  immortality. 
There  will  be  no  space,  and  consequently  the  only  com- 
merce between  spirits  will  be  by  their  intelligence  of  each 
other  —  when  they  will  completely  understand  each  other, 
while  we  in  this  world  merely  comprehend  each  other  in 
different  degrees  —  the  higher  the  degree  of  good  so  higher 
our  Love  and  Friendship." 

The  letter,  a  very  long  one,  chats  of  many  things,  for, 
says  Keats,  "Within  this  last  Week  I  have  been  every 
where,"  and  he  goes  on  to  tell  of  calling  on  Georgiana's 
cousins,  the  Millars,  in  Henrietta  Street;  of  going  out  with 
Mrs.  Dilke  to  Walthamstow  to  see  Fanny  (Mr.  Abbey 
does  not  seem  to  have  objected  to  Mrs.  Dilke  as  an  ac- 
quaintance for  his  ward);  of  Haslam's  constant  kindness, 
his  last  attention  being  a  gift  of  some  especially  thin  paper 


124  JOHN  KEATS 

for  transatlantic  correspondence  (we  shall  hear  of  this  thin 
paper  again);  of  Leigh  Hunt's  just  published  Literary 
Pocket  Book  for  1819  (the  first  of  the  series),  which  he  de- 
clares to  be  "full  of  the  most  sickening  stuff  you  can  im- 
agine/' although  his  own  sonnet  To  Aiha  Rock  was  in  it; 
of  dropping  in  on  Hazlitt,  and  of  going  to  see  Kean  in 
"  Brutus  a  new  Tragedy  by  Howard  Payne,  an  American, 
on  which  his  comment  is:  "Kean  was  excellent  —  the 
play  was  very  bad."  Hunt  has  asked  him  to  meet  Tom 
Moore,  and  taken  him  and  Brown  to  Novello's  where  "we 
were  devastated  and  excruciated  with  bad  and  repeated 
puns  —  Brown  don't  want  to  go  again."  The  evening  was 
"a  complete  set-to  of  Mozart  and  punning."  The  effect 
of  this  evening  was  to  bring  forth  the  following  diatribe: 

"  I  was  so  completely  tired  of  it  that  if  I  were  to  follow 
my  own  inclinations  I  should  never  meet  any  one  of  that 
set  again,  not  even  Hunt  who  is  certainly  a  pleasant  fellow 
in  the  main  when  you  are  with  him  —  but  in  reality  he  is 
vain,  egotistical,  and  disgusting  in  matters  of  taste  and  in 
morals.  He  understands  many  a  beautiful  thing;  but  then, 
instead  of  giving  other  minds  credit  for  the  same  degree  of 
perception  as  he  himself  professes  —  he  begins  an  expla- 
nation in  such  a  curious  manner  that  our  taste  and  self- 
love  is  offended  continually.  Hunt  does  one  harm  by  mak- 
ing fine  things  petty  and  beautiful  things  hateful." 

Since  Hunt's  morals  were  nothing  short  of  impeccable,  we 
can  see  that  Haydon  had  been  one  of  the  many  people 
whom  Keats  had  been  seeing,  for  Haydon  applied  the 
word  "morals"  to  religious  opinions,  a  subject  on  which  he 
and  Hunt  were  forever  at  odds. 

In  the  midst  of  this  confused  jumble  of  activities,  there 
suddenly  peeps  into  the  letter,  and  for  the  first  time,  a 
mention  of  Fanny  Brawne.  It  was  not  only  bull-dog  grit 
which  brought  Keats  back  to  the  world;  it  was  excitement, 
interest,  delight  and  anxiety.  It  was,  in  short,  love;  for 
Keats  was  already  deeply  in  love  with  Miss  Brawne. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         125 

Nothing  in  Keats's  life  has  been  so  misunderstood  and 
misjudged  as  the  relations  between  him  and  Fanny  Brawne, 
and  few  women  have  had  to  suffer  more  from  the  ignorant 
malevolence  of  posterity  than  Fanny  Brawne  has.  He,  in 
his  love  for  her,  and  she,  in  being  the  woman  he  loved, 
have  been  held  up  for  pity  and  scorn  by  the  critics  of  a 
hundred  years.  The  odium  began  with  Keats's  friends,  but 
Matthew  Arnold  capped  the  topmost  tower  of  vitupera- 
tion when  he  called  Keats's  love-letters  vulgar,  and  said 
they  were  the  letters  of  a  "surgeon's  apprentice."    The 
snobbishness  under  the  calumny  proves  where  the  stricture 
really  lies.  Matthew  Arnold,  for  all  his  culture,  his  reiter- 
ated cry  for  "sweetness  and  light,"  was  an  arch-snob.  His 
attitude  toward  the  people  he  met  when  he  toured  America, 
lecturing  under  the  auspices  of  P.  T.  Barnum,  is  one  proof 
of  this,  and  there  are  many  others  scattered  through  his 
letters.   Arnold  was  a  snob  in  regard  to  people,  but  quite 
the  reverse  where  books  were  concerned.   People,  he  did 
not  understand;  books  he  did.   The  man  who  could  say  of 
Keats's  poems:  "No  one  else  in  English  poetry,  save 
Shakespeare,    has    in    expression    quite    the    fascinating 
felicity  of  Keats,  his  perfection  of  loveliness"1  was   a 
shrewd  judge  of  literary  merit.  But  with  all  his  shrewdness, 
Arnold  never  had   the   slightest  conception   of  Keats's 
character.    No  inkling  of  the  man,  John   Keats,  ever 
entered  his  head.    His  very  keenness  of  perception  in 
literary  matters,  the  fruit  of  years  of  training,  perplexed 
and  retarded  his  brain  where  people  were  concerned.  And 
he  had  not  the  excuse  of  a  jealous  love,  which  in  some 
measure  exculpates  Keats's  personal  friends. 

Let  us  look  at  the  matter  a  little  more  sympathetically, 
and  see,  if  we  can,  what  is  the  truth  of  this  sad  and  bitter 
love  between  John  Keats  and  Fanny  Brawne. 

Brown  had  a  habit  of  going  off  somewhere  every  Sum- 
mer and  letting  his  house  for  the  period  of  his  absence. 

1  Essays  in  Criticism.  Second  Series ,  by  Matthew  Arnold. 


126  JOHN  KEATS 

In  the  Summer  of  1818,  while  he  and  Keats  were  walking 
about  Scotland,  his  tenants  had  been  a  widow  lady  named 
Brawne  and  her  children,  two  girls  and  a  boy.  Fanny,  the 
oldest  of  the  family,  was  born  on  August  ninth,  1800,  and 
christened  "Frances."  A  boy,  Samuel,  was  the  second 
child,  he  was  still  going  to  school  at  this  period;  the  young- 
est was  a  girl  named  Margaret.  Buxton  Forman  says  that 
Mr.  Samuel  Brawne,  the  father,  a  "gentleman  of  inde- 
pendent means,"1  died  while  Fanny  was  still  a  child.  At 
the  time  of  their  taking  Brown's  house,  the  Brawne  family 
were  total  strangers  to  every  one  whom  Keats  knew,  but 
by  the  time  Keats  returned  to  Hampstead  a  strong  friend- 
ship had  sprung  up  between  them  and  the  Dilkes.  The  in- 
timacy of  the  double  house  and  the  single  garden  would 
probably  have  produced  such  a  result  in  any  case,  but  in  this 
there  was  unusual  congeniality  of  tastes  and  tempers.  So 
much  had  the  Brawnes  come  to  like  Hampstead  that,  when 
the  expiration  of  their  lease  and  Brown's  return  made  mov- 
ing imperative,  they  moved  no  farther  than  Downshire  Hill. 
The  friendship  with  the  Dilkes  continued  —  continued, 
indeed  for  many  years  —  and  Keats,  a  constant  visitor  at 
Wentworth  Place,  must  assuredly  have  met  Miss  Brawne 
not  long  after  his  return,  but  just  when  we  do  not  know. 
Dilke  thinks  it  must  have  been  in  October  or  November, 
but  also  says  that  it  was  soon  after  Keats  came  back  from 
Scotland.  Since  he  was  in  Hampstead  by  the  middle  of 
August,  it  seems  more  probable  that  the  meeting  occurred 
not  later  than  some  time  early  in  September.  If  it  cannot 
be  stated  as  a  certainty,  nevertheless  it  appears  quite 
evident  that  the  Brawnes  were  the  friends  to  whose  house 
he  took  his  sister,  as  mentioned  in  his  letter  to  her  of  Octo- 
ber twenty-sixth.2  Something  very  like  proof  that  this 
was  so,  lies  in  the  fact  that  Abbey  objected  to  his  having 

1  Introduction  to  Letters  of  John  Keats  to  Fanny  Brawne,  edited  by  H. 
Buxton  Forman. 

2  See  Vol.  II,  p.  116. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         127 

taken  his  sister  there,  as  he  surely  would  not  have  done 
had  the  call  been  on  the  Dilkes,  and  the  Dilkes  and  the 
Brawnes  were  the  only  people  to  whom  Keats  would  have 
been  likely  to  take  her,  being  the  only  houses  in  Hamp- 
stead  where  he  was  on  an  intimate  footing  in  which  there 
were  ladies;  for  certainly,  in  view  of  the  strict  conventions 
of  the  period,  he  would  never  have  dreamt  of  taking  a  young 
girl  to  a  house  where  there  were  only  men,  such  as  Brown's, 
for  instance.  Then,  too,  what  more  natural  than  to  want 
the  two  Fannies  to  make  each  other's  acquaintance,  con- 
sidering that  one  was  his  only  sister  and  the  other  the  girl 
with  whom  he  was  in  love.  Fanny  Brawne  was  only  three 
years  older  than  Fanny  Keats,  a  difference  of  age  the  im- 
portance of  which  was  bound  to  diminish  with  time.  The 
two  girls  seem  to  have  taken  to  each  other  at  once,  and  her 
friendship  with  his  sister  appears  to  have  been  Fanny 
Brawne's  chief  comfort  in  the  years  immediately  succeed- 
ing Keats's  death. 

Apparently  Keats  fell  in  love  with  Fanny  Brawne  almost 
as  soon  as  he  met  her.  He  himself  considered  that  it  was 
immediately.  Writing  to  her  from  Shanklin  in  the  follow- 
ing July,  he  says: 

41 1  have,  believe  me,  not  been  an  age  in  letting  you  take 
possession  of  me;  the  very  first  week  I  knew  you  I  wrote 
myself  your  vassal ;  but  burnt  the  Letter  as  the  very  next 
time  I  saw  you  I  thought  you  manifested  some  dislike  to 
me.  If  you  should  ever  feel  for  Man  at  the  first  sight  what 
I  did  for  you,  I  am  lost." 

That  he  had  not  met  her  at  the  time  of  the  Charmian 
episode,  seems  indubitable.  The  man  who  was  haunted  by 
the  Reynoldses'  cousin  for  a  night  had  not  then  written 
himself  down  anybody's  vassal.  But  we  are  distinctly  told 
that  the  call  on  the  Reynoldses,  during  which  he  met  their 
East  Indian  relation,  was  the  first  he  made  to  Little  Britain 
after  his  return,  and,  intimate  as  he  was  with  the  Reynolds 


128  JOHN  KEATS 

family,  we  may  suppose  that  he  went  to  see  them  as  soon  as 
he  could.  It  is  clear  to  see  that,  when  he  encountered  the 
lady  met  at  Hastings  in  the  street  near  Bedford  Row,  he 
had  given  himself  completely  to  Fanny  Brawne,  and  had 
no  room  left  for  even  the  mildest  philandering. 

Keats  considered  Fanny  Brawne  to  be  dowered  with  ex- 
traordinary beauty,  an  opinion  which  must,  I  fear,  be  put 
down  to  a  lover's  partiality.  Some  beauty  she  seems  to 
have  had,  however,  of  a  quasi-statuesque  kind,  to  judge 
by  the  silhouette  of  her  by  the  French  silhouettist  Edouart. 
Edouart  was  famous  for  his  likenesses,  so  probably  this  is 
a  good  portrait,  as  far  as  it  goes.  Her  hair  is  said  to  have 
been  very  beautiful.  I  have  a  lock  of  it,  which  is  of  a 
rather  usual  brown  colour,  but  it  may  have  faded.  At  any 
rate,  whatever  its  hue,  she  was  most  particular  as  to  its 
arrangement,  wearing  it  interlaced  with  ribbons  after  the 
fashion  of  the  time.  Her  eyes  were  blue  and  sparkling.  She 
seems  to  have  been  something  of  a  "rattle,"  as  it  used  to  be 
called,  liking  smart  sallies  and  badinage,  and  an  innocent 
measure  of  flirtation.  With  the  statuesque  figure  I  have 
mentioned,  this  manner  may  well  have  jarred  and  offended 
a  fastidious  taste;  not  because  it  was  tasteless  in  itself,  but 
because  it  did  not  suit  her. 

Everyone  who  knew  Fanny  Brawne  testifies  to  her  de- 
termined and  independent  character.  As  Buxton  Forman 
says,1  probably  from  information  supplied  by  her 
daughter,  "it  was  not  easy  to  turn  her  from  a  settled  pur- 
pose." She  was  well  educated  for  a  girl  of  her  class  and 
period,  and  a  voluminous,  if  not  a  particularly  critical, 
reader,  and  this  reading  was  by  no  means  confined  to  light 
literature.  Certain  subjects  which  interested  her,  she  fol- 
lowed up  with  steady  perseverance;  one  of  these  —  and  one 
which  she  is  supposed  to  have  studied  with  some  thorough- 
ness —  was  the  history  of  costume,  "  in  which  she  was  so 

1  Introduction  to  the  Keats-Brawne  Correspondence,  edited  by  H. 
Buxton  Forman. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          129 

well  read  as  to  be  able  to  answer  any  question  of  detail  at  a 
moment's  notice."  She  was  also  interested  in  politics, 
which  she  was  wont  to  discuss  with  fire  and  animation. 
Altogether  a  girl  of  no  mean  mental  abilities,  although 
legend  has  so  carefully  obscured  the  fact.  In  later  life,  she 
wrote  for  Blackwood's.  She  spoke  and  read  both  French 
and  German,  and  amused  herself,  years  after  Keats's 
death,  by  making  translations  of  German  stories. 

There  is  no  doubt  that  this  somewhat  imperious  young 
woman  —  for  such  seems  to  have  been  the  manner  she 
turned  to  the  world  at  the  time  —  was  used  to  admiration, 
and  liked  to  dance.  There  were  balls  at  Hampstead,  balls 
at  Woolwich,  and  those  were  the  days  just  after  Waterloo, 
when  "military  men"  were  much  in  vogue.  Waltzing  had 
just  come  in,  and  to  waltz  with  an  officer  was  bliss,  in  the 
eyes  of  eighteen.  To  Keats,  who  did  not  dance  and  who 
hated  soldiers,  this  taste  was  incomprehensible  and  ir- 
ritating, which  is  nothing  to  marvel  at,  perhaps.  But  I 
find  no  real  evidence  that  Fanny  Brawne  was  over-much 
occupied  with  these  things,  legend  to  the  contrary  not- 
withstanding. Our  chief  informant  on  this  side  of  Miss 
Brawne's  character  is  a  most  untrustworthy  one  —  a 
cousin,  who  as  a  boy,  seventy  years  earlier,  had  seen  her  in 
her  mother's  house.1  His  remarks  verge  on  the  malicious, 
and  when  we  think  how  many  years  had  elapsed,  and  how 
the  legend  had  grown  in  the  meantime,  we  shall  not  feel 
constrained  to  give  his  recollections  unqualified  credence. 

At  the  time  Keats  met  her,  Fanny  Brawne  was  just 
eighteen.  That  she  had  enough  sweetness  and  depth  of 
character  to  fall  in  love  with  the  poet,  I  think  there  can 
be  no  doubt;  and  I  believe  she  thoroughly  satisfied  the 
passionate  part  of  Keats's  love,  satisfied  it  to  a  painful 
extent  considering  that  they  could  not  marry.  She  kept 
Keats  in  a  burning  agitation  of  desire  which,  under  the 
circumstances,  she  was  powerless  to  gratify.  How  much  of 

1  Account  published  in  the  New  York  Herald,  April  12,  1889. 


i3o  JOHN  KEATS 

this  she  may  have  understood,  we  have  not  as  yet  sufficient 
means  of  knowing.  But  the  other  side  of  love,  the  maternal 
side,  she  scarcely  seems  to  have  been  mature  enough  to 
comprehend.  She  certainly  developed,  and  grew  more 
tender,  as  time  went  on;  but  the  mothering  which  Keats  so 
sorely  needed,  she  had  only  begun  to  learn  to  give  him  when 
he  died. 

I  think  one  must  accord  her  a  little  pity,  for  she  can 
have  known  very  few  hours  of  happiness  in  her  love.  It 
need  not  surprise  us  if  the  very  violence  of  Keats's  feelings 
kept  her  own  somewhat  in  abeyance.  She  shows  a  rare 
patience  with  a  lover  who  leaves  her  so  much  alone.  He  was 
forced  to  do  so  —  granted.  But  how  many  girls  would  have 
understood  the  reason  and  not  resented  the  fact.  People 
always  speak  as  though  it  should  have  been  enough  for  her , 
to  have  been  engaged  to  such  a  genius.  But  only  a  poseuse 
engages  herself  to  marry  a  poet,  as  such.  To  Fanny 
Brawne,  Keats  was  the  man  she  loved  —  "my  Keats/' 
she  calls  him  —  not  a  genius  writing  poems  for  posterity. 
And  just  as  she  is  beginning  to  understand  him,  his  needs, 
his  moods,  he  falls  ill,  and  after  that  is  only  the  misery  of  a 
fast-failing  hope  ending  in  despair. 

Fanny  Brawne  was  no  such  charming  and  unusual 
character  as  George's  wife,  Georgiana  Wylie,  but  neither 
was  she  the  frivolous  and  heartless  coquette  which  she  is 
often  represented  to  have  been.  Keats's  friends  thought 
her  not  worthy  of  him,  but  that  would  have  been  inevitable 
in  any  case,  so  highly  did  they  regard  him.  That  she 
married  ten  years  after  Keats's  death,  is  nothing;  ten 
years  is  a  long  time  to  cling  to  a  memory  so  harassed  and 
incomplete.  Georgiana  Keats  married  after  her  husband's 
death,  but  no  one  has  dared  to  suggest  that  therefore  she 
never  loved  George.  If  Fanny  Brawne  did,  many  years 
later,  part  with  her  miniature  of  Keats  to  Dilke,  it  is  an 
unfortunate  circumstance;  and  we  are  told  that  it  was 
another  unfortunate  circumstance,  nothing  less  than 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         131 

financial  disaster  to  her  husband,  which  brought  it  about. 
But  she  did  not  part  with  the  copy  of  Lamia  which  the 
poet  gave  her,  for  her  daughter  gave  it,  many  years  after 
her  mother's  death,  to  Mr.  Buxton  Forman,  who  kept  it 
until  his  death  when  it  passed  into  my  hands. 

Keats's  mention  of  Miss  Brawne  in  the  letter  to  George 
was  simply  because  he  could  not  keep  her  out.  The  tone 
of  his  remarks  shows  how  assiduously  he  was  trying  to 
throw  dust  in  his  brother's  eyes  as  to  his  attitude  toward 
her.  From  first  to  last,  Keats  was  extraordinarily  reticent 
about  his  love;  it  was  too  real,  too  deep,  and  he  was  too 
sensitive,  to  bear  the  thought  of  prying  eyes  and  whispered 
speculations.  The  engagement,  when  it  came,  does  not 
appear  to  have  been  announced  in  the  usual  manner;  it 
leaked  out,  from  all  we  can  see,  and  became  a  settled  fact 
to  their  mutual  circle  by  degrees,  as  it  were,  gradually 
growing  upon  the  consciousness  of  their  friends  from  the 
evidence  daily  before  their  eyes.  If  Keats  could  not,  for 
the  life  of  him,  keep  Fanny  Brawne  out  of  his  letter,  he 
fondly  believed  he  could  throw  his  brother  completely  off 
the  track  by  his  manner  of  speaking  of  her.  The  charms 
of  a  Charmian  he  had  no  hesitation  in  detailing;  Fanny 
Brawne's  effect  on  him  was  beyond  charm,  so  far  beyond 
that  he  must  belittle  her  or  give  himself  away.  Her  first 
entrance  into  the  letter  is  as  follows: 

"  Mrs.  Brawne  who  took  Brown's  house  for  the  Summer 
still  resides  in  Hampstead  —  she  is  a  very  nice  woman  — 
and  her  daughter  senior  is  I  think  beautiful  and  elegant, 
graceful,  silly,  fashionable  and  strange  —  we  have  a  little 
tiff  now  and  then  —  and  she  behaves  a  little  better,  or  I 
must  have  sheered  off." 

Had  Keats  been  a  little  more  experienced,  he  would  not 
have  found  this  vivacious  girl  so  strange.  Fanny  seems  to 
have  begun  with  him  as  she  was  accustomed  to  begin  with 
all  young  men,  a  style  of  intercourse  which  Keats  did  not 


132  JOHN  KEATS 

in  the  least  understand.  Yet  we  can  imagine  that  her  very 
strangeness,  and  the  piquant  unusualness  (in  Keats's  ex- 
perience) of  her  address,  combined  with  her  entrancing 
frocks,  were  a  considerable  part  of  the  lure  in  the  first 
instance.  What  Keats  was  long  in  guessing  was  that  this 
manner  of  wilful  badinage  was  assumed  to  hide  her  real 
feelings,  as  there  is  considerable  evidence  to  prove  that 
she  fell  in  love  with  him  almost  as  soon  as  he  did  with  her. 
A  couple  of  pages  farther  on  in  the  letter,  Keats  is  con- 
strained to  speak  of  her  again.  This  time  the  dust  is 
thrown  in  still  larger  quantities.  Apropos  of  nothing, 
Keats  suddenly  begins: 

"Shall  I  give  you  Miss  Brawne?  She  is  about  my 
height  —  with  a  fine  style  of  countenance  of  the  lengthened 
sort — she  wants  sentiment  in  every  feature  —  she  manages 
to  make  her  hair  look  well  —  her  nostrils  are  fine  —  though 
a  little  painful  —  her  mouth  is  bad  and  good  —  her  Profile 
is  better  than  her  full-face  which  indeed  is  not  full  but  pale 
and  thin  without  showing  any  bone.  Her  shape  is  very 
graceful  and  so  are  her  movements  —  her  Arms  are  good, 
her  hands  bad-ish  —  her  feet  tolerable  —  she  is  not  seven- 
teen l  —  but  she  is  ignorant  —  monstrous  in  her  behaviour, 
flying  out  in  all  directions,  calling  people  such  names  — 
that  I  was  forced  lately  to  make  use  of  the  term  Minx  — 
this  I  think  not  from  any  innate  vice  but  from  a  penchant 
she  has  for  acting  stylishly.  I  am  however  tired  of  such 
style  and  shall  decline  any  more  or  it.  She  had  a  friend  to 
visit  her  lately  ...  a  downright  Miss  without  one  set-off. 
We  hated  her  and  smoked  her  and  baited  her  and  I  think 
drove  her  away.  Miss  B.  thinks  her  a  Paragon  of  fashion, 
and  says  she  is  the  only  woman  she  would  change  persons 
with.  What  a  stupe  —  She  is  superior  as  a  Rose  to  a 
dandelion." 

Dust  though  this  was,  there  were  grains  of  truth  in  it. 
Keats  was  at  once  repelled  and  drawn.  Drawn,  alas,  more 
by  the  girl's  bodily  attractions  than  by  the  spirit  which 

1  This  was  an  error. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          133 

animated  them.  This  was  one  reason  for  the  hard  course 
of  his  love.  There  was  too  much  of  the  merely  physical  in 
its  composition.  Unsatisfied  desire  kept  him  forever 
dwelling  upon  things  which  could  not  be,  to  the  exclusion 
of  that  part  of  his  lady  which  craved  a  fuller  understanding. 
Fanny  Brawne  deserved  better  than  this.  Looking  at  their 
relations  without  bias,  thrusting  our  minds  away  from  the 
conventional  interpretation,  I  think  we  must  admit  that 
he  wronged  her  far  more  seriously  than  she  ever  wronged 
him.  Her  patience  with  him  was  unbounded;  his  with  her 
was  no  bigger  than  a  millet  seed. 

It  has  been  my  good  fortune  to  have  come  upon  a  num- 
ber of  Fanny  Brawne's  letters,  mostly  written  after  Keats's 
death,  to  Fanny  Keats.  They  are  the  property  of  a  gentle- 
man who  does  not  wish  his  name  to  be  disclosed.  But  this 
anonymity  need  alarm  nobody;  there  is  no  doubt  as  to  the 
authenticity  of  the  letters,  as  I,  who  have  seen  a  couple  of 
the  originals,  can  testify.  From  these  letters,  we  gain  a  very 
clear  idea  as  to  what  sort  of  woman  Fanny  Brawne  really 
was.  Several  of  these  letters,  or  rather  parts  of  them,  I 
must  keep  for  insertion  where  they  properly  belong,  but  a 
few,  dating  from  later  years,  I  will  give  here,  as  a  corrective 
to  Keats's  portrait. 

The  first  was  written  in  the  November  after  Keats's 
death: 

"  . . .  my  brother  was  in  the  country  ...  As  soon  as  he  re- 
turned I  sent  him  with  a  note  for  you  and  heard  to  my 
great  surprise  you  were  not  expected  for  a  week  —  I  hope 
by  that  time  you  will  have  an  opportunity  of  reading  ...  I 
go  on  as  usual  reading  every  trumpery  novel  that  comes  in 
my  way  spoiling  my  taste  and  understanding,  as  for  ac- 
quaintances I  see  none  unless  I  take  the  trouble  of  going 
after  them." 

Certainly  Fanny  Brawne  was  in  mourning  at  this  time, 
but  what  is  ingrained  does  not  alter.  No  giddy  butterfly, 


134  JOHN  KEATS 

such  as  she  has  been  represented,  could  ever  have  been  in 
the  state  of  seeing  no  acquaintances.  As  for  the  novels, 
what  a  human  touch  they  bring  in,  and  let  us  not  forget 
that  Jane  Austen  was  an  omnivorous  reader  of  that  branch 
of  literature. 

The  letter  from  which  the  next  quotation  comes  is  un- 
dated: 

"I  have  been  expecting  some  account  of  the  pleasure  I 
think  you  must  have  felt  at  King  Lear  though  in  it  you  did 
not  see  Kean  to  the  best  advantage  and  though  the  play 
itself  is  spoiled.1  I  have  only  seen  Miss  Edmiston  in  Lady 
Macbeth  and  admired  her  person  but  did  not  think  much 
of  her  acting.  In  Cordelia  she  may  be  better  ...  the  play 
itself  is  not  one  I  should  wish  to  see  again.  Read  it  as 
originally  written  and  you  will  soon  see  the  difference. 
They  say,  as  a  foolish  reason  for  acting  it  in  its  present 
state  that  formerly  it  was  too  affecting  but  I  am  convinced 
that  the  more  people  are  affected  the  more  they  are 
pleased  .  . .  Dr.  Johnson  who  saw  it  before  the  alteration 
said  it  was  too  much  to  bear  and  that  nothing  should 
induce  him  to  sit  it  out  again." 

There  is  intelligence  here,  and  artistic  feeling.  The  girl 
who  wrote  that  passage  was  far  more  fitted  to  be  Keats's 
wife  than  the  wife  of  one  of  the  officers  who  graced  the 
Hampstead  balls.  That  Keats's  judgments  were  final  to 
her,  and  that  she  was  capable  of  assimilating  his  opinions 
and  learning  from  him,  the  next  quotation  shows: 

"I  have  therefore  sent  you  Spenser  instead,  which  you 
will  feel  the  more  pleasure  in  reading  as  you  will  find  the 
best  part  marked  by  one  who  I  have  heard  called  the  best 
judge  of  poetry  living — they  were  marked  for  me  to  read,2 
and  I  need  not  say  with  what  pleasure  I  did  so  ...  The 
serious  poems  of  Lord  Byron  were  given  me  by  a  school 
fellow  ...  I  can  remember  being  half  wild  about  them 
learning  and  repeating  continually  when  alone  but  as  my 
1  It  was  given  in  a  cut  and  bowdlerized  version.  2  See  Vol.  II,  p.  414. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          135 

dear  Keats  did  not  admire  Lord  Byron's  poetry  as  many 
people  do  it  soon  lost  its  value  with  me.  If  I  am  not  mis- 
taken he  thought  Manfred  one  of  the  best." 

Another  undated  letter  contains  a  clue  to  what  I  believe 
to  be  the  real  Fanny  Brawne.  What  she  was  in  very  truth, 
which  is  far  indeed  from  what  Keats  —  first  in  his  mis- 
understanding blindness;  later  in  his  sick  suspicion  — 
sometimes  conceived  her  to  be. 

"How  delightful  it  would  be  to  have  you  with  me  to- 
night. I  am  quite  alone  I  am  always  glad  to  get  my  family 
out  (to  provoke  me  they  seldom  ever  go)  and  then  highly 
favoured  indeed  is  the  person  I  would  wish  for  or  even 
admit.  There  is  one  and  only  one  person  in  the  world 
besides  yourself  that  I  would  admit  tonight  and  her  coming 
is  about  as  possible  as  yours  —  I  was  asked  out  to  tea  by 
some  friends  who  thought  I  must  feel  '  lonely '  —  for  my 
part  I  think  people  are  all  mad." 

A  young  woman  who  likes  to  be  alone  has  resources 
within  herself,  resources  of  mind;  Fanny  Brawne,  eagerly 
looking  forward  to  a  few  hours  of  solitude  which  only  two 
people  whom  she  knows  (both  women)  are  worthy  to  break 
in  upon,  can  scarcely  have  been  as  avid  for  society  as 
tradition  would  lead  one  to  suppose.  Either  Keats's  death 
changed  her  radically,  or  she  never  was  the  flibbertigibbet 
some  of  his  friends  chose  to  imagine.  The  latter  is,  I  am 
certain,  the  correct  view.  As  we  follow  the  rest  of  Keats's 
short  life,  we  shall  be  struck  again  and  again  by  her  sweet- 
ness, her  loyalty,  her  charity  and  prodigious  patience. 
She  was  not  a  woman  to  wear  her  heart  on  her  sleeve. 
When  Keats  died,  she  was  prostrated  and  seriously  ill  for 
some  time.  The  severity  of  her  illness  is  proved  by  the  fact 
that  her  hair  lost  much  of  its  colour.1  A  lady  who  knew 
her  at  this  period  recollects  her  as  "a  dignified  looking 
woman,  fair,  but  pale/'2  and  she  remembers  being  told 

1  Unpublished  letter  of  Fanny  Brawne. 

*  Quoted  in  Sweet  Hampstead,  by  Mrs.  C.  A.  White. 


136  JOHN  KEATS 

that  Miss  Brawne  had  "lost  her  colour  in  an  illness  she 
had  after  her  engagement  with  Keats  was  broken  off." 
Broken  off!  It  never  was.  Death,  and  death  only,  had 
the  power  to  separate  them,  but  the  Hampstead  gossips 
did  not  know  that. 

So  strongly,  so  deeply,  so  unalterably  did  Fanny  Brawne 
love  Keats,  that  when,  twenty  years  later,  Severn  returned 
to  England  and  wished  to  see  her,  she  could  not  bring  her- 
self to  receive  him,  the  associations  connected  with  him 
were  so  painful;  she  feared  to  open  a  wound  which  was  only 
too  likely  to  bleed  afresh.  It  is  true  that  she  finally  mar- 
ried, but  not  until  ten  years  had  passed.  Her  husband  was 
a  Spanish  Jew  named  Lewis  Lindo;  he  afterwards  changed 
his  name  to  Lindon.  Whatever  comfort  and  peace  she 
may  have  found  in  this  marriage,  she  seems  always  to  have 
cherished  the  memory  of  Keats  as  something  sacred,  but 
not  to  be  spoken  of.  His  letters  she  guarded  with  scrupu- 
lous care,  and  later,  much  later,  when  her  children  were 
grown  up,  she  enjoined  them  to  treasure  these  same  letters, 
saying,  with  what  must  have  been  almost  a  pang  of  under- 
standing and  loyalty,  that  "they  would  some  day  be  con- 
sidered of  value." 1  That  this  was  her  final  sacrifice  for 
Keats,  his  reputation,  his  vital  claim  on  posterity,  we  can- 
not doubt.  Far  from  condemning  the  suggestion  which 
induced  her  children,  years  after  her  death,  to  permit  the 
publication  of  these  same  letters,  we  should  esteem  it  the 
crowning  act  of  a  love  that,  with  the  contemplation  of 
years,  had  become  heroic.  She  died  in  1865. 

I  have  so  far  outrun  time,  because  it  is  not  my  inten- 
tion to  carry  this  book  beyond  the  moment  of  Keats's 
death.  The  vicissitudes  of  his  after  fame  have  been  am- 
ply treated  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin.  Fanny  Brawne's  life, 
as  we  know  it,  I  have  given  here,  since  no  clear  under- 
standing of  her  character  can  be  gained  without  taking 

1  Introduction  to  Keats- Brawne  Correspondence,  by  Buxton  For  man. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          137 

all  we  can  learn  of  her  into  consideration;  also,  this 
knowledge  will  help  to  clarify  many  things  in  the  ensu- 
ing chapters. 

Keats,  then,  in  mid-December,  1818,  was  already  ir- 
revocably in  love  with  Fanny  Brawne.  He  felt  enslaved, 
that  is  abundantly  evident,  not  so  much  by  Fanny  herself 
as  by  love.  His  liberty,  his  unvexed  concentration  on 
poetry,  he  believed  to  be  menaced  by  the  presence  of  this 
imperious  preoccupation  from  which  he  could  not  tear 
himself.  It  was  a  bitter  and  a  glorious  experience,  but  his 
alternations  of  hope  and  fear  made  his  existence  rather  a 
fevered  one.  Undoubtedly  his  state  of  mind  kept  him  from 
morbidly  grieving  over  Tom's  death  as  much  as  he  other- 
wise would  have  done,  and  that  was  a  good  thing.  All 
through  December,  Keats  was  suffering  the  fate  of  every 
young  man  in  love.  Will  she?  Won't  she?  Does  she? 
Does  she  not?  His  mind  struggled  with  these  vital  ques- 
tions every  hour  of  the  day.  Yet  Keats,  encompassed  by 
this  haze  of  conjecture,  agonized  with  apprehension,  lifted 
up  on  the  wings  of  an  almost  intolerable  hope,  made  a  fine 
effort  to  keep  himself  face  forward  towards  the  life  he  had 
mapped  out  and  go  on  with  his  work.  This  was  no  easy 
task,  but  Keats  had  a  strong  will  and  an  indomitable  pride; 
so  to  work  he  went,  because  he  was  determined  to  do  so. 
This  is  what  he  says  to  George: 

"  I  am  passing  a  Quiet  day  —  which  I  have  not  done  for 
a  long  while  —  and  if  I  do  continue  so,  I  feel  I  must  again 
begin  with  my  poetry  —  for  if  I  am  not  in  action  mind  or 
Body  I  am  in  pain  —  and  from  that  I  suffer  greatly  by 
going  into  parties  where  from  the  rules  of  society  and  a 
natural  pride  I  am  obliged  to  smother  my  Spirit  and  look 
like  an  Idiot  —  because  I  feel  my  impulses  given  way  to 
would  too  much  amaze  them  —  I  live  under  an  everlasting 
restraint  —  never  relieved  except  when  I  am  composing  — 
so  I  will  write  away." 

He  wanted  to  write  Hyperion,  but  found  the  doing  so 


138  JOHN  KEATS 

very  difficult.    In  the  letter  to  George,  just  before  the 
second  mention  of  Miss  Brawne,  he  wrote: 

"I  think  you  knew  before  you  left  England,  that  my 
next  subject  would  be  'the  fall  of  Hyperion.'  I  went  on  a 
little  with  it  last  night,  but  it  will  take  some  time  to  get 
into  the  vein  again.  I  will  not  give  you  any  extracts,  be- 
cause I  wish  the  whole  to  make  an  impression.  I  have 
however  a  few  Poems  which  you  will  like,  and  I  will  copy 
out  on  the  next  sheet." 

The  first  of  these  copied  poems  is  the  rather  long  im- 
aginative piece,  Fancy.  It  is  written  in  trochaic  hepta- 
syllables,  the  same  metre  that  Keats  had  employed  in  the 
Mermaid  Tavern  and  Robin  Hood.  Keats  is  never  too 
happy  in  this  metre.  Professor  de  Selincourt  thinks  that  he 
"was  never  completely  successful/'  with  it  "till  he  wrote 
the  'Eve  of  St.  Mark.'"  Professor  de  Selincourt  forgets 
that  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark  is  iambic,  not  trochaic,  a  much 
easier  metre  to  write.  Why  the  trochaic  metre  did  not  suit 
him,  there  is  no  saying;  but  it  is  a  fact  that  his  best  poems 
were  all  written  in  iambics,  whether  the  form  were  blank 
verse,  heroic  couplet,  sonnet,  or  the  heptasyllables  of  the 
Eve  of  St.  Mark.  Tripping  metres  were  not  in  Keats's 
line.  Keats  heralds  the  poem  to  George  very  simply: 
"Here  are  the  Poems  —  they  will  explain  themselves  — 
as  all  poems  should  do  without  any  comment." 

No  explanation  was  possible  really.  Fancy  is  once  again 
a  catalogue  of  "luxuries,"  but  how  inferior  to  /  Stood  Tip- 
toe, even  though  Keats  had  acquired  a  far  greater  firmness 
of  presentation  and  a  less  adolescent  attitude.  The  fresh- 
ness of  delight  is  not  here.  This  is  a  sober  catalogue  of 
beautiful  facts,  a  whole  year's  gamut  of  beauty.  Each 
season  adds  its  quota,  but  Keats  presents  these  things  with 
the  careful  eye  of  observation  rather  than  with  the  effer- 
vescence of  wonder.  This  is  Keats  soothing  his  harassed 
soul  by  remembering  the  loveliness,  quaintness,  and  charm 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         139 

of  Nature,  which,  to  him,  was  perennially  peace-giving. 
In  the  imaginative  world  where  his  fancy  strays,  the  three 
flowering  seasons  exist  together;  or  rather,  whatever  is 
attractive  in  each  one  of  the  three  is  isolated  and  included. 
Some  of  the  lines  are  extremely  pleasant,  as,  for  instance, 
these: 

"Thou  shalt  see  the  field-mouse  peep 
Meagre  from  its  celled  sleep; 
And  the  snake  all  winter-thin 
Cast  on  sunny  bank  its  skin ; 
Freckled  nest-eggs  thou  shalt  see 
Hatching  in  the  hawthorn  tree, 

Then  the  hurry  and  alarm 
When  the  bee-hive  casts  its  swarm; 
Acorns  ripe  down-pattering, 
While  the  autumn  breezes  sing." 

The  last  line  is  poor,  and  Keats  left  it!  That  is  a  pity;  he 
should  have  been  able  to  improve  it  into  something  less 
commonplace.  Yet  he  did  work  over  the  poem  quite  a 
little;  there  are  many  changes  between  the  version  sent  to 
George  and  that  printed  in  the  Lamia  volume.  It  is  from 
the  last  that  I  have  quoted. 

The  second  poem  copied,  Bards  of  Passion  and  of  Mirth, 
is  again  heptasyllabic,  and  again  Keats  essays  the  trochaic 
form.  The  poem  was  originally  written  in  his  copy  of 
Beaumont  and  Fletcher,  on  a  blank  page  opposite  The 
Fair  Maid  of  the  Inn.  Keats  told  George  that  the  subject 
was  "the  double  immortality  of  poets."  Undoubtedly 
the  "bards"  were  Beaumont  and  Fletcher.  It  has  been 
suggested  that  Keats  found  the  idea  of  his  poem  in  one  of 
Wordsworth's,  the  third  of  the  series  printed  under  the 
title  Memorial  of  a  Tour  in  Scotland^  if  so,  he  coupled  it 
with  recollections  of  Drayton's  Muses  Elysium.1  The 
two  poems  taken  together  may  very  possibly  have  en- 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  563. 


i4o  JOHN  KEATS 

gendered  Bards  of  Passion.  But  no  matter  whence  it  came, 
the  poem  is  dull,  not  felt,  heavy  to  read  and  leaving  no 
impression  afterwards. 

Keats  speaks  of  these  poems  as  "specimens  of  a  sort  of 
rondeau  which  I  think  I  shall  become  partial  to  —  because 
you  have  one  idea  amplified  with  greater  ease  and  more 
delight  and  freedom  than  in  the  sonnet."  Keats  was 
always  longing  to  "free"  his  verse,  always  trying  experi- 
ments which  should  unshackle  it  from  convention.  That 
he  never  quite  succeeded  in  his  experimental  efforts,  was 
the  fault  of  his  time  rather  than  of  his  endeavour.  Why 
he  spoke  of  these  poems  as  rondeaux  can  only  be  attrib- 
uted to  ignorance.  As  Professor  de  Selincourt  aptly  re- 
marks: "Keats's  idea  of  the  Rondeau  form  must  have 
been  somewhat  vague." l  They  are  no  more  rondeaux 
than  they  are  limericks.  For  some  inexplicable  reason, 
Bards  of  Passion,  when  it  was  published  in  the  Lamia 
volume,  was  entitled  Ode  —  it  is  as  little  of  an  ode  as  it 
is  a  rondeau. 

The  third  poem  sent  to  George  was  a  ten  line  piece, 
/  had  a  dove  and  the  sweet  dove  died.  Keats  says  he  wrote  it 
off  "to  some  Music  as  it  was  playing,"  which  fact  prob- 
ably accounts  for  both  its  subject  and  its  diction.  The 
last  two  lines  have  a  certain  quaint  charm: 

"  I  kiss'd  you  oft  and  gave  you  white  peas  — 
Why  not  live  sweetly  as  in  the  green  trees?" 

Two  more  poems  we  know  to  belong  to  the  year  1818, 
but  to  just  what  part  of  it  we  are  in  ignorance.  I  put  them 
here  at  the  end  of  the  year  simply  because  I  can  find  no- 
thing like  an  exact  date  for  either  of  them.  The  first  in  point 
of  interest  is  a  three  stanza  lyric  without  title,  always 
known  by  its  first  line:  Hush,  hush  !  tread  softly  !  hush,  hush, 
my  dear.  Charlotte  Reynolds  told  Buxton  Forman  that 
the  song  was  composed  to  a  Spanish  air  which  she  used  to 

1  The  Poems  of  John  Keats,  edited  by  E.  de  Selincourt. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         i4i 

play  to  Keats.  She  said  that  sometimes  she  played  to  him 
for  hours.  This  fact  is  the  chief  reason  for  my  putting  the 
poem  immediately  after  /  had  a  dove,  since  it  seems  more 
than  likely  that  it  was  Charlotte  Reynolds's  playing  which 
had  evoked  that  poem.  In  the  case  of  Hush,  hush  !  tread 
softly  !  the  words  seem  to  have  been  absolutely  set  to  the 
air,  for  singing  purposes.  In  truth,  so  lyrical  is  this  little 
piece,  so  "singable,"  that  a  tune  seems  bound  to  belong  to 
it.  Alas!  The  "Spanish  air"  is  forever  lost  to  us.  Slight 
as  the  song  is,  it  has  a  haunting  quality,  and  a  delicacy 
which  in  no  way  obscures  its  underlying  passion.  In  the 
last  line  but  one  Keats  originally  wrote  "his  soft  twin- 
eggs";  Buxton  Forman,  not  unnaturally,  balked  at  "his" 
in  this  connection,  but  having  found  two  manuscripts  of 
the  poem  —  one  in  a  copy  of  the  Literary  Pocket-book  for 
1819,  the  other  in  a  copy  of  Endymion  —  he  was  relieved 
to  discover  in  the  first  of  these  an  alternative  reading, 
"her  soft  brace"  which  he  promptly  made  use  of.  Buxton 
Forman  states  that  the  version  in  the  Endymion  is  "evi- 
dently later"  than  the  other,  and  that  it  corresponds  more 
closely  to  the  text  as  given  by  Lord  Houghton,  but  that 
the  holograph  lacks  the  final  couplet.  I  have,  however, 
found  still  a  third  version  in  the  Woodhouse  Book  in  the 
Morgan  Library.  It  is  not  in  Keats's  handwriting,  but  in 
Woodhouse's,  still  Woodhouse  undoubtedly  copied  it  from 
one  of  Keats's  manuscripts.  In  this  Woodhouse  copy,  the 
offending  "his"  gives  place  to  "her."  The  last  line  of  the 
poem  is  Keats,  Keats  himself,  the  Keats  who  loved  Fanny 
Brawne;  its  very  extravagance  is  a  key  to  his  sensations. 
Whether  he  wrote  the  poem  before  he  knew  her  or  not,  this 
was  how  he  felt  about  her  and  this  sort  of  thing  was  his 
undoing.  Here  is  the  couplet: 

"The  stock-dove  shall  hatch  her  soft  twin-eggs  and  coo, 
While  I  kiss  to  the  melody,  aching  all  through." 

To  the  people  who  object  to  this  side  of  Keats,  we  can  only 


i42  JOHN  KEATS 

say:  "Love  me,  love  my  dog";  it  is  a  part  of  him  and 
cannot  be  ignored. 

The  second  poem  which  we  cannot  accurately  place  is  a 
little  fragment  published  without  title.  It  begins : "  Where's 
the  Poet,  show  him!  show  him."  In  the  British  Museum 
volume  of  Keats  manuscripts  it  is  dated  "1818."  I  think 
we  can  approximate  a  closer  date  if  we  consider  the  little 
piece  in  the  light  of  Keats's  letter  of  October  twenty- 
seventh  to  Woodhouse,  for  the  poem  says  practically  the 
same  thing  as  the  letter.  Keats's  answer  to  the  question  in 
his  first  line  is: 

"  Tis  the  man  who  with  a  man 

Is  an  equal,  be  he  King, 
Or  poorest  of  the  beggar-clan, 

Or  any  other  wondrous  thing 
A  man  may  be  'twixt  ape  and  Plato; 

'Tis  the  man  who  with  a  bird, 
Wren  or  Eagle,  finds  his  way  to 

All  its  instincts;  he  hath  heard 
The  Lion's  roaring,  and  can  tell 

What  his  horny  throat  expresseth, 
And  to  him  the  Tiger's  yell 

Comes  articulate  and  presseth 
On  his  ear  like  mother- tongue." 

The  manuscript  ends  with  a  line  of  dots,  showing  that 
the  poem  was  discontinued,  but  not  finished.  This  is  not 
surprising;  what  was  written  was  far  from  promising. 

There  is  a  third  poem,  if  it  can  be  called  such,  which,  on 
no  evidence  at  all,  I  am  willing  to  attribute  to  this  year. 
Buxton  Forman  judged  it  "to  belong  to  the  end  of  1818 
or  thereabouts,"  and  although  he  does  not  give  his  reasons 
for  this  opinion,  I  can  find  no  cogent  ones  for  assigning  it 
to  a  different  date.  Here,  then,  we  will  let  it  stand.  It  is  a 
Spenserian  stanza,  which  Keats  wrote  at  the  end  of  Canto 
II,  Book  V,  in  his  copy  of  the  Faerie  Queene.  It  was  first 
published  by  Lord  Houghton  in  his  1848  edition,  prefaced 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          i43 

by  a  note  in  which  the  editor  speaks  of  Keats's  sympathy 
with  Spenser's  revolutionary  "Gyant,"  and  declares  that 
in  this  stanza  Keats  expressed  "his  conviction  of  the  ulti- 
mate triumph  of  freedom  and  equality  by  the  power  of 
transmitted  knowledge."  Professor  de  Selincourt  com- 
ments on  both  the  stanza  and  Lord  Houghton's  note 
upon  it  by  saying:  "The  lines  are  interesting  as  one  of  the 
few  illustrations  in  the  verse  of  Keats  of  his  democratic 
sympathies."  This  is  all  very  well,  but  are  not  both  gen- 
tlemen taking  a  mere  jeu  cT esprit  a  trifle  too  seriously? 
Keats's  stanza,  which  seems  to  me  too  unimportant  to 
quote  here,  is,  I  think,  a  joking  expression  of  the  far- 
reaching  effect  of  print  and  how  by  means  of  it  almost  any- 
thing may  be  accomplished.  As  to  Keats's  democratic 
sympathies,  I  have  already  shown  how  little  he  really  con- 
sidered such  matters.  His  remarks  to  George  about 
America1  do  not  show  him  in  much  sympathy  with  the 
great  democratic  experiment  of  his  time.  The  truth  is  that 
all  efforts  to  foist  upon  Keats  a  social  economic  conscience 
break  down  before  his  complete  indifference  on  the  sub- 
ject. Twist  his  words  about  how  we  may,  in  the  very  few 
passages  in  his  letters  or  his  poems  which  can  be  made  to 
serve,  they  are  always  capable  of  either  another  meaning 
entirely  or  of  being  attributable  to  a  very  youthful  en- 
thusiasm for  the  political  shibboleths  of  the  Hunt  school. 
Ethical,  Keats  certainly  was;  and  quite  as  certainly  he  had 
no  faith  in  any  regeneration  of  mankind  through  the 
medium  of  political  reform.  But  the  main  truth  is  that  he 
lived  aside  from  all  such  things;  his  work  lay  elsewhere. 
If  Keats  were  determined  to  keep  himself  up  to  writing, 
he  was  no  less  determined  that  his  walks,  talks,  tiffs,  and 
makings-up  with  Fanny  Brawne  should  undermine  the 
general  tenor  of  his  life  as  little  as  possible.  He  made  an 
immense  effort,  but  did  not  entirely  succeed.  Severn's 
later  recollections  always  have  to  be  taken  with  a  grain  of 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  109. 


144  JOHN  KEATS 

salt,  but  what  he  records  of  this  time  seems  so  likely  to  be 
true  that  I  think  we  may  believe  it  to  represent  the  facts 
without  much  exaggeration.  In  Sharp's  biography  of  the 
painter,  we  find  the  following: 

1  "During  the  Autumn  of  1818  Severn  saw  little  of  Keats. 
When  they  did  meet,  he  noticed  that  his  friend  was  dis- 
traught and  without  that  look  of  falcon-like  alertness 
which  was  so  characteristic  of  him  ...  It  certainly  seemed 
as  though  the  poet  were  losing  strength  and  energy,  for  he 
ceased  to  take  much  interest  in  intellectual  matters,  and 
declared  himself  unable  to  take  long  walks  or  even  indulge 
in  any  unnecessary  exercise." 

Severn  may  have  been  thinking  of  the  months  which 
preceded  Tom's  death.  But  as  he  himself  was  only  con- 
valescent from  his  serious  illness  in  the  middle  of  October, 
we  may  take  his  description  as  covering  the  weeks  suc- 
ceeding Tom's  death  as  well  as  the  earlier  ones.  Probably 
Keats  refused  to  walk  with  Severn  that  he  might  walk  with 
Fanny  Brawne;  we  know  that  they  were  in  the  habit  of 
strolling  on  the  heath  together.  Severn  is  quite  wrong  as  to 
Keats's  lack  of  interest  in  "intellectual  matters,"  as  we 
have  abundantly  seen,  but  when  we  remember  Severn's 
teasing  propensities,  we  cannot  wonder  that  Keats 
shunned  him  at  a  time  when  both  patience  and  spirits  were 
sorely  tried.  Yet  we  are  indebted  to  Severn  for  this  de- 
scription of  Keats's  appearance,  and  for  recording  the 
apathy  which  people,  even  friends,  who  did  not  chime 
with  his  mood  produced  in  him. 

Hazlitt  had  been  lecturing  again,  this  time  on  the  Eng- 
lish Comic  Writers,  but  Keats  had  been  too  tied  down  to  go 
and  hear  him.  It  shows  how  cordially  Hazlitt  had  come  to 
regard  him  that,  on  one  occasion  when  Keats  went  to  see 
him  at  his  lodgings  in  York  Street,  the  older  man  lent  him 
his  lectures,  now  preparing  for  the  press,  to  take  home 

1  Life  of  Joseph  Severn,  by  William  Sharp. 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          145 

with  him.1  We  know  this  from  the  fact  that  Keats  quotes 
a  long  passage  from  one  of  the  lectures  in  his  December- 
January  letter  to  George,  and  the  book  did  not  appear  until 
April,  1819. 

Keats,  meanwhile,  had  begun  to  settle  down  in  Went- 
worth  Place,  the  good  postman,  Bentley,  carrying  over 
his  books  in  a  clothes-basket.  Then  came  an  invitation 
from  Dilke's  father  to  come  with  Brown  and  stay  a  few 
days  at  Chichester;  and  another  from  Dilke's  sister,  Mrs. 
Snook,  to  come  to  Bedhampton  after  the  Chichester  visit. 
Keats  tells  George:  "They  say  I  shall  be  very  much 
amused.  But  I  don't  know  —  I  think  I  am  in  too  huge  a 
Mind  for  study  —  I  must  do  it  —  I  must  wait  at  home  and 
let  those  who  wish  come  to  see  me.  I  cannot  always  be 
(how  do  you  spell  it?)  trapsing." 

Keats  was  slowly  regaining  his  tone;  he  could  even  see 
that  the  Quarterly  article  was  not  entirely  without  a  touch 
of  silver  lining.  "Gifford's  attack  upon  me  has  done  me 
service,"  he  declares  to  George, "  it  has  got  my  book  among 
several  sets."  He  also  finds  that  his  tastes  are  widening 
out:  "A  year  ago  I  could  not  understand  in  the  slightest 
degree  Raphael's  Cartoons  —  now  I  begin  to  read  them  a 
little."  One  remark  which  Keats  made  at  this  time  is  il- 
luminating as  to  the  point  of  view  which  was  beginning  to 
be  his.  He  had  been  looking  at  a  series  of  engravings  taken 
from  the  frescoes  of  some  Italian  church.  These  frescoes 
were,  he  says: 

"Full  of  romance  and  the  most  tender  feeling  . . .  But 
Grotesque  to  a  curious  pitch  —  yet  still  making  up  a  fine 
whole  —  even  finer  to  me  than  more  accomplish'd  works 
—  as  there  was  left  so  much  room  for  Imagination." 

In  his  appreciation  of  suggestion,  Keats  joins  the  moderns; 
although  this,  like  so  many  others  of  his  apprehended 
artistic  truths,  never  got  very  far  into  his  poetry. 

1  Life  of  William  Hatlitt,  by  P.  P.  Howe. 


146  JOHN  KEATS 

This  book  of  engravings  Keats  had  seen  at  Haydon's. 
Hay  don  had  been  of  distinct  benefit  to  him  hitherto;  but 
now  the  man's  boundless  egotism  led  him  into  an  act  of 
positive  cruelty.  He  asked  Keats  for  money,  as  he  did 
everyone  else,  to  be  sure,  but  Keats  was  not  fair  game. 
He  had  just  been  through  a  terrible  experience,  he  was 
not  well  (his  sore  throat  had  come  back),  his  financial 
circumstances  were  not  too  satisfactory.  But  did  Haydon 
care?  Not  a  bit.  Keats  answered  by  telling  him  that  he 
had  "a  sort  of  fire"  in  his  heart  that  would  "sacrifice 
every  thing"  he  had  to  his  friend's  service,  but  begged 
that  he  "  try  the  long  purses"  first.  It  is  rather  a  pathetic 
letter.  Keats  admits  that  he  feels  in  himself  "  all  the  vices 
of  a  Poet,  irritability,  love  of  effect  and  admiration," 
after  which  acknowledgment  he  goes  on  to  tell  Haydon 
why  to  lend  money  just  then  would  be  highly  inconvenient: 

"I  have  a  little  money  which  may  enable  me  to  study, 
and  to  travel  for  three  or  four  years.  I  never  expect  to 
make  anything  by  my  Books:  and  moreover  I  wish  to 
avoid  publishing  —  I  admire  Human  Nature  but  I  do  not 
like  Men.  I  should  like  to  compose  things  honourable  to 
Man  —  but  not  fingerable  over  by  Men.  So  I  am  anxious 
to  exist  with  [out]  troubling  the  printer's  devil  or  drawing 
upon  Men's  or  Women's  admiration." 

Haydon  replied  with  one  of  his  usual  rhapsodies,  but  left 
the  question  of  whether  or  not  he  would  renew  his  demand 
in  the  air. 

Tom's  death  had  altered  affairs  considerably.  His 
allowance  was,  of  course,  discontinued,  and  Keats,  who 
had  always  lived  with  his  brothers  on  terms  of  share  and 
share  alike  whichever  one's  money  it  was  at  the  moment, 
found  himself  on  very  short  financial  commons.  He  had 
spent  so  much  of  his  own  principal  that  there  was  very 
little  left,  and  Abbey  declared  himself  puzzled  as  to  the 
legal  aspects  of  the  case.  Since  Tom  was  dead,  ought  not 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          147 

his  share  of  the  grandmother's  legacy  to  be  joined  to  the 
grandfather's  fund  and  so  not  become  available  until 
Fanny  came  of  age?  For  Keats  to  lend  anybody  money  in 
the  predicament  in  which  he  was,  was  madness;  and  worse 
than  that,  weakness.  He  simply  had  not  the  strength  of 
mind  to  refuse.  On  Christmas  Eve,  he  wrote  to  Taylor, 
begging  the  loan  of  thirty  pounds.  "Ten  I  want  for  my- 
self—  and  twenty  for  a  friend,"  he  innocently  adds, 
promising  to  pay  by  the  middle  of  January.  Whether  the 
"friend"  were  Haydon  or  not,  we  cannot  tell;  either  he 
was  not,  or  Taylor  refused  the  money,  for  none  of  it  went  to 
Haydon,  who  continued  to  importune  Keats  during  the 
following  weeks,  and  Keats  (how  he  got  it,  we  do  not  know) 
was  at  last  able  to  scrape  up  thirty  pounds  for  him,  a  loan 
which  Haydon  never  repaid.  Keats's  weakness  in  the 
matter  of  lending  money  annoyed  his  more  sensible  friends 
as  it  annoys  posterity.  At  one  time,  he  had  over  two 
hundred  pounds  of  bad  debts  on  his  hands. 

Christmas  drew  near,  and  the  time  for  going  to  Chiches- 
ter.  Keats  alleged  his  sore  throat  and  let  Brown  go  alone. 
His  throat  was  practically  always  sore  at  this  time,  with 
only  occasional  intervals  of  relief,  and  still  no  one  guessed 
the  fatal  headway  which  tuberculosis  was  making. 

Just  before  Christmas,  Keats  got  himself  into  a  little 
difficulty.  He  paid  a  call  in  Little  Britain  and  discovered 
that  Mrs.  Reynolds  took  it  for  granted  that  he  was  to  dine 
there  on  Christmas  Day,  and  when  he  said  that  he  had 
another  engagement,  the  fact  was  not  taken  in  too  good 
part.  Keats  hated  to  hurt  people's  feelings,  and  the  Rey- 
noldses  were  old  friends,  as  his  friendships  went,  so  he  sat 
down  and  wrote  a  letter  of  explanation  to  Mrs.  Reynolds 
This  is  surely  one  of  the  most  awkward  epistles  on  record 
Keats  was  very  much  flustered,  too  flustered  and  deter 
mined  as  to  what  he  intended  to  do  to  excuse  himself  witl 
either  tact  or  plausibility.  He  assured  Mrs.  Reynold 
that  the  engagement  was  a  previous  one;  that  he  shoulc 


148  JOHN  KEATS 

not  have  accepted  it,  but  "kept  in  Mind  old  friends,"  if 
he  had  not  expected  to  be  in  Hampshire  on  Christmas  —  a 
singular  reason.  He  ends  in  this  remarkable  manner: 

"  I  will  not  speak  of  the  proportion  of  pleasure  I  may 
receive  at  different  Houses  —  that  never  enters  my  head 
—  you  may  take  for  a  truth  that  I  would  have  given  up 
even  what  I  did  see  to  be  a  greater  pleasure,  for  the  sake  of 
old  acquaintanceship  —  time  is  nothing  —  two  years  are 
as  long  as  twenty." 

Since  he  had  known  the  Reynoldses  just  two  years,  the 
inference  is  obvious.  But  what  about  the  more  important 
inference,  the  ill-concealed  "greater  pleasure"?  Where 
was  he  dining?  Charlotte  Reynolds  told  Buxton  Forman 
that  she  thought  the  other  invitation  was  from  Mrs. 
Brawne.  It  most  certainly  was,  but  not  until  the  discovery 
of  the  letters  of  Fanny  Brawne  of  which  I  have  already 
spoken  was  it  possible  to  realize  the  full  significance  of  that 
evening.  I  think  it  is  very  certain  that  it  was  on  this 
Christmas  night  that  Keats  and  Fanny  Brawne  became 
engaged.  In  one  of  Miss  Brawne's  letters  is  what  may  very 
well  be  an  allusion  to  this  fact.  She  is  writing  on  December 
thirteenth,  1821: 

11 1  dined  with  Mrs.  Dilke  a  day  or  two  ago  ...  we  dine 
with  them  on  Christmas  day  which  is  like  most  peoples 
Christmas  days  melancholy  enough  ...  I  cannot  think  it 
will  be  much  worse  than  mine  for  I  have  to  remember  that 
three  years  ago  was  the  happiest  day  I  had  ever  then 
spent." 

Three  years  before  was  this  very  Christmas  of  1818.  Not 
only  do  Fanny  Brawne's  words  seem  clearly  to  point  to  a 
happiness  altogether  unusual,  entirely  beyond  any  other 
happiness  of  any  previous  days,  even  of  this  Autumn,  but 
the  evidence  of  circumstance  seems  to  back  up  my  theory. 
Keats  could  not  bring  himself  to  go  to  Chichester  until 
almost  the  middle  of  January.  To  be  sure,  there  was  the 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT          i49 

sore  throat,  but  that  was  still  with  him  when  he  finally 
went.  More  than  that,  there  is  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes,  which 
I  think  was  the  direct  result  of  the  engagement;  and  there 
is  the  Ode  to  Fanny,  which  fits  so  well  here  that  it  must  be 
taken  into  careful  consideration. 

Perhaps  I  am  wrong  in  speaking  of  an  engagement, 
perhaps  Fanny  Brawne  took  some  time  to  give  her  absolute 
consent.  Whatever  she  may  have  said  to  Keats,  we  know 
from  her  letter  what  she  felt,  and  she  must  have  allowed 
Keats  a  considerable  measure  of  hope  or  the  Eve  of  St. 
Agnes  would  not  have  been  written.  Even  supposing  the 
engagement  to  have  been  made  on  that  Christmas  Day, 
that  is  no  bar  to  the  ups  and  downs  of  their  relations  during 
the  rest  of  the  Winter.  Other  lovers  have  experienced  the 
same  difficulties  of  adjustment,  hosts  of  them.  If  Fanny 
Brawne's  love  for  Keats  grew  stronger  and  fuller  as  time 
went  on,  it  is  but  another  proof  that  hers  was  not  a  shallow 
nature. 

The  critics  never  cease  to  wonder  at  Keats's  sudden 
spurt  of  productiveness,  beginning  in  January  with  the  Eve 
of  St.  Agnes,  and  then,  after  a  vacant  interval,  bursting  out 
in  magnificent  effervescence  with  La  Belle  Dame  Sans 
Merciy  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale,  the  Ode  on  a  Grecian  Urn, 
and  the  less  important  odes  To  Psyche,  On  Melancholy, 
and  On  Indolence.  The  clue  I  believe  to  lie  in  just  the  fact 
of  Keats's  reciprocated  love  for  Fanny  Brawne. 

There  is  no  doubt  that  Keats  was  a  difficult  and  un- 
comfortable lover.  His  self-imposed  absences  must  have 
been  extremely  trying.  Keats  leaves  Fanny  Brawne  for 
months  at  a  time,  and  waxes  jealous  and  miserable  if  she 
goes  out  for  an  evening.  Within  two  weeks  of  this  Christ- 
mas Day,  he  left  her  for  nearly  three  weeks.  Indeed  I 
think  Fanny  had  much  to  bear. 

Keats  dined  again  at  the  Brawnes',  in  company  with  the 
Dilkes,  on  the  Saturday  of  the  following  week.  This 
occasion  he  slurs  over  to  George  by  remarking  that 


150  JOHN  KEATS 

"nothing  particular  passed."  Perhaps  not,  nothing  he  cared 
to  relate  to  his  family  in  America,  at  any  rate.  But,  if 
George  and  Georgiana  were  at  all  quick  of  observation, 
they  might  have  learnt  something  of  the  way  the  wind  was 
blowing  from  this  little  straw  of  an  observation  which  fol- 
lows immediately  upon  the  "nothing": 

"  I  never  intend  hereafter  to  spend  any  time  with  ladies 
unless  they  are  handsome  —  you  lose  time  to  no  purpose. 
For  that  reason  I  shall  beg  leave  to  decline  going  again  to 
Redhall's  or  Butler's  or  any  Squad  where  a  fine  feature 
cannot  be  mustered  among  them  all!" 

There  is  no  difficulty  in  reading  between  the  lines  here,  for 
Fanny  Brawne  was,  in  Keats's  eyes,  a  houri  of  loveliness. 
A  curious  aspect  of  Keats's  state  of  mind  was  that  he  could 
not  rid  himself  of  the  feeling  that  his  having  fallen  in  love 
with  Miss  Brawne  was  in  some  way  a  disloyalty  to  his 
brother  and  sister-in-law.  It  is  unnecessary  to  point  out 
how  essentially  morbid  such  an  idea  was,  but  morbidness 
and  Keats  were  old  companions.  Even  in  the  first  flush  of 
his  acknowledged  love,  he  could  write  to  George  and 
Georgiana: 

"I  have  no  thought  pervading  me  so  constantly  and 
frequently  as  that  of  you  —  my  Poem  cannot  frequently 
drive  it  away  —  you  will  retard  it  much  more  than  you 
could  by  taking  up  my  time  if  you  were  in  England.  I 
never  forget  you  except  after  seeing  now  and  then  some 
beautiful  woman  —  but  that  is  a  fever  —  the  thought  of 
you  both  is  a  passion  with  me  but  for  the  most  part  a  calm 
one." 

How  he  tortured  himself,  poor  boy!  And  how  he  harried 
Miss  Brawne!  Let  us  suppose  for  a  minute  what  we  do  not 
certainly  know —  that  the  Ode  to  Fanny  was  written  at 
this  time.  Why  not?  The  mood  of  the  poem  was  almost  a 
chronic  one  with  Keats,  it  is  true;  but  there  are  expressions 
in  the  Ode  which  show  clearly  that,  at  the  time  he  wrote  it, 


SORROW  AND  READJUSTMENT         151 

the  engagement  was  a  very  recent  thing.  If  we  recollect 
that  Hyperion  was  balking  badly,  we  shall  quite  under- 
stand the  first  stanza,  and  I  am  positive  that  the  "wintry 
air  "  was  actual  fact.  Keats  was  housed  with  his  throat  and 
knew  he  must  not  go  out,  hence  his  "Beckon  me  not  into 
the  wintry  air."  Fanny  was  evidently  going  to  a  dance  —  a 
New  Year's  dance,  Buxton  Forman  suggests  —  and  Keats 
was  not  well  enough  to  go  with  her.  The  lines  which  prove 
the  engagement  to  have  been  but  just  made  are: 

".  .  .  do  not  turn 
The  current  of  your  heart  from  me  so  soon." 

This  is  from  the  third  stanza;  in  the  seventh,  he  says  again: 

"  Ah!  if  you  prize  my  subdued  soul  above 

The  poor,  the  fading,  brief,  pride  of  an  hour; 

Let  none  else  touch  the  just  new-budded  flower." 

The  theme  of  the  poem  may  be  paraphrased  as:  Be  not  too 
kind  to  the  men  with  whom  you  are  going  to  dance  to- 
night, and  his  plea 

".  .  .  keep  me  free, 
From  torturing  jealousy." 

If  I  am  right  in  thinking  that  an  engagement,  or  at  least 
what  is  called  an  "understanding,"  had  been  agreed  to 
between  the  lovers  on  Christmas  night,  the  Ode  to  Fanny 
most  certainly  belongs  to  the  very  end  of  December  or  the 
beginning  of  January. 

The  sore  throat  began  to  ease  a  little,  and  Keats's 
conscience  was  not  quite  comfortable  about  old  Mr.  Dilke 
and  the  Snooks.  Perhaps,  too,  being  himself,  he  felt  the 
need  of  rest,  of  a  dull  and  uneventful  interval  to  soothe  the 
poignance  of  his  sensations.  At  any  rate,  to  Chichester  he 
went  about  the  middle  of  January,  and  from  there  to  the 
Snooks'.  All  we  know  of  the  exact  dates  of  these  visits  is 


152  JOHN  KEATS 

that  he  told  George:  "I  was  nearly  a  fortnight  at  Mr.  John 
Snook's  and  a  few  days  at  old  Mr.  Dilke's,"  and  that  he 
and  Brown  wrote  a  composite  letter  to  the  Dilkes  from 
Bedhampton  on  January  twenty-fourth,  in  which  Brown 
reported  that  he  and  Keats  had  walked  there  from  Chi- 
chester  the  day  before. 

A  pleasant  little  sketch  of  Keats  at  this  time  is  contained 
in  a  letter  which  Mrs.  Dilke  wrote  to  her  father-in-law  as  a 
sort  of  introduction  to  his  expected  visitor,  whom  he  had 
never  met.  This  is  what  Mrs.  Dilke  thought  it  wise  to  say 
concerning  him  to  an  elderly  man  who  might  be  a  little 
puzzled  at  first: 

"  You  will  find  him  a  very  odd  young  man,  but  good- 
tempered,  and  good-hearted,  and  very  clever  indeed." 

The  stigma  of  "oddness"  is  the  price  a  myopic  world 
always  exacts  of  genius,  but  since  he  was  also  "good- 
tempered,  and  good-hearted,"  even  in  the  eyes  of  this  same 
world,  we  may  conceive  that  he  was  even  odder  than  Mr. 
Dilke  senior  would  have  been  likely  to  think,  for,  after  all, 
he  was  certainly  a  genius. 

Thus  Keats  wrenched  himself  away  from  Fanny  Brawne 
and  went  down  to  join  Brown  at  Chichester. 


CHAPTER  X 
SWIFT  CURRENTS 

KEATS  was  not  "very  much  amused"  at  Chichester;  in 
fact,  he  was  not  amused  at  all.  It  could  hardly  be  expected 
that  any  young  man  much  in  love,  who  had  recently 
declared  himself  and  been  given  considerable  encourage- 
ment, if  nothing  more,  would  find  any  place  not  in  the 
vicinity  of  his  idol  highly  amusing;  but  in  this  case,  Mr. 
Dilke's  method  of  entertaining  his  "odd"  guest  seems  even 
odder  than  the  guest  himself.  A  couple  of  "dowager  Card 
parties,"  as  Keats  calls  them,  were  the  sole  outings  of  his 
" few  days"  there.  We  may  be  sure,  however,  that  he  and 
Brown  strolled  round  the  neighbourhood  and  wandered 
into  the  cathedral.  Keats  dearly  loved  cathedrals,  we  have 
already  seen  him  flying  from  Margate  to  Canterbury,  and 
before  this  year,  1819,  is  out  we  shall  find  him  flying  again, 
from  the  Isle  of  Wight  to  Winchester.  Chichester  cathedral 
fell  in  comfortably  with  a  sort  of  pseudo-mediaeval  mood 
which  he  had  fallen  into.  Why  a  mediaeval  mood?  one 
may  ask.  Well,  consider  the  circumstances  a  little.  Keats 
had  been  working  on  Hyperion,  with  no  great  impulse,  how- 
ever, if  his  own  general  discouragement  with  his  progress 
on  it  can  be  taken  as  evidence.  After  the  fateful  Christmas 
dinner  at  the  Brawnes',  he  was  less  in  tune  with  it  than 
ever,  probably.  The  excitement  of  his  new  situation  as  an 
accepted,  or  quasi-accepted,  lover  turned  the  current  of  his 
thoughts  in  an  entirely  different  direction.  The  age  of 
chivalry  had  always  stood  to  Keats  as  a  symbol  of  the 
strength  and  beauty  of  love.  Its  decor  was  to  him  the 
perfect  setting  for  romance.  The  Endymion  story  had 
meant  a  dream  of  the  ideal,  but  by  no  effort  could  it  be 
made  to  represent  the  actual.  Knights  and  ladies,  on  the 
other  hand,  were  strictly  human.  They  could,  without 


1 54  JOHN  KEATS 

difficulty,  be  taken  to  personify  real  people.  Yet  his  point 
of  view  can  hardly  be  supposed  to  have  been  as  square- 
toed  as  this.  Rather  he  found  in  the  entourage  and  type  of 
thought  of  chivalric  legend  something  sympathetic  and 
alluring.  The  over-plus  of  emotion  under  which  he  was 
labouring,  suddenly  deflected  from  its  natural  outlet  of 
intercourse  with  Fanny  Brawne,  sublimated  itself  into 
creative  energy,  and  the  immediate  result  was  the  com- 
position of  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes. 

St.  Agnes'  Eve  is  January  twentieth,  a  date  which  was 
practically  synchronous  with  Keats's  arrival  at  Chichester. 
Since  he  left  Chichester  on  Saturday,  January  twenty- 
third,  and  was  there  only  a  "few  days,"  he  cannot  have 
been  more  than  at  the  very  beginning  of  his  visit  on  the 
twentieth.  Woodhouse  states l  that  the  poem  was  written 
"at  the  suggestion  of  Mrs.  Jones,"  a  remark  which  has 
much  puzzled  Sir  Sidney  Colvin,  and  no  wonder,  since  no 
such  person  makes  her  appearance  anywhere  else  in  any  of 
the  known  sources  of  information  as  to  Keats's  life  or  work. 
When  we  remember  Keats's  habit  of  concealing  real  names 
from  the  prying  curiosity  of  the  indefatigable  Woodhouse 
by  substituting  imaginary  ones  in  their  stead,  the  puzzle 
becomes  a  puzzle  no  longer,  I  think.  We  know  nothing  of 
Mrs.  Jones,  because  there  is  nothing  to  know;  there  was  no 
such  person.  Keats  hid  the  name  of  the  real  lady  under  a 
conventional  Jane  Doe  pseudonym.  There  was  a  lady,  but 
who  was  she?  If  we  hazard  a  guess,  circumstances  leave  us 
hovering  between  two  very  possible  persons.  She  was  either 
Mrs.  Brawne,  or  old  Mrs.  Dilke,  she  may  even  have  been 
Fanny  Brawne  herself,  but  this  I  think  improbable.  Let  us 
take  the  two  chances  and  weigh  them.  We  will  suppose 
that  Keats  left  Hampstead  for  Chichester  on  either  Tues- 
day or  Wednesday,  January  nineteenth  or  twentieth;  it 
could  not  have  been  much  earlier,  as  we  have  seen.  Un- 
doubtedly his  last  evening  before  starting  was  spent  in 

1  Woodhouse  Commonplace  Book  (Poems  II).  Crewe  Collection. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  155 

company  with  the  Brawnes.  Somehow  the  conversation 
may  have  turned  on  St.  Agnes'  Eve.  "You  will  be  away  on 
St.  Agnes'  Eve,"  or  "Why,  you  are  going  down  on  St. 
Agnes'  Eve,"  are  remarks  which,  in  such  a  case,  may  very 
well  have  been  made,  leading  to  a  subsequent  narration  by 
Mrs.  Brawne  of  the  well-known  legend,  with  the  sugges- 
tion that  it  would  make  a  good  plot  for  Keats.  So  much  for 
the  Mrs.  Brawne  theory.  As  to  Mrs.  Dilke,  if  Keats  did 
actually  arrive  at  Chichester  on  St.  Agnes'  Eve,  a  family  so 
steeped  in  antiquarian  lore  as  the  Dilkes  are  most  likely  to 
have  mentioned  the  day,  and  this  conjecture  holds  good 
even  if  he  had  arrived  the  day  before.  On  the  whole,  I  am 
inclined  to  consider  the  Mrs.  Brawne  theory  as  the  most 
tenable  on  two  accounts.  The  first  is  that  Keats  had  every 
possible  reason  for  not  mentioning  Mrs.  Brawne's  name  to 
Woodhouse;  his  secret! veness  in  regard  to  his  intimacy 
with  the  Brawnes  with  people  who  did  not  know  them 
would  have  forced  him  to  this,  while,  in  the  case  of  old  Mrs. 
Dilke,  only  a  sense  of  fitness  could  have  induced  him  to 
obscure  her  identity.  The  second  account  is  that  Mrs. 
Brawne  would  have  been  much  more  likely  to  have 
suggested  that  Keats  try  his  hand  at  a  poem  on  the  subject 
than  old  Mrs.  Dilke,  who  had  known  him  only  a  scant 
twenty-four  hours  or  so.  Young  Mrs.  Dilke  at  Went- 
worth  Place  is  a  third  possibility,  but  as  Keats's  familiar 
footing  in  Dilke's  house  was  known  to  everybody,  there 
seems  no  reason  why  he  should  have  objected  to  mention- 
ing her  to  Woodhouse.  Mrs.  Brawne,  then,  I  think  it  un- 
doubtedly was  to  whom  Keats  owed  the  suggestion  that  he 
write  a  poem  on  St.  Agnes'  Eve. 

Packed  up  with  his  clothes  and  brushes  and  other  things 
in  the  portmanteau  which  Keats  carried  with  him  to  Chi- 
chester was  some  of  the  thin  oblong  paper  which  Haslam 
had  given  him  to  write  to  America  upon.  Perhaps  Keats 
intended  to  start  a  letter  to  George  while  he  was  gone.  How- 
ever that  may  have  been,  it  was  not  as  a  letter  to  George 


156  JOHN  KEATS 

that  the  oblong  sheets  in  the  portmanteau  were  to  serve, 
they  were  destined  for  a  more  important  fate,  for  on  them, 
in  the  dull  and  quiet  moments  surrounding  the  "dowager 
Card  parties,"  Keats  wrote  a  part,  or  sketched  the  whole, 
of  the  first  draft  of  the  Eve  of  Saint  Agnes.  His  own  account 
of  the  proceeding  sent  later  to  George  is  as  follows: 

"I  took  down  some  thin  paper  and  wrote  on  it  a  little 
poem  call'd  St.  Agnes'  Eve,  which  you  shall  have  as  it  is 
when  I  have  finished  the  blank  part  of  the  rest  for  you." 

From  his  speaking  of  "the  blank  part  of  the  rest,"  it 
seems  clear  that  the  poem  was  not  even  finished  in  skeleton 
form  until  after  his  return  to  Hampstead.  Lord  Houghton, 
who  probably  had  the  information  direct  from  Brown,  says 
that  the  poem  "was  begun  on  a  visit  to  Hampshire,  at  the 
commencement  of  this  year  [1819]  and  finished  on  his  re- 
turn to  Hampstead."  The  manuscript  of  the  first  draft  is 
still  in  existence.1  I,  who  have  handled  it  many  times,  can 
testify  to  the  thinness  of  the  oblong  paper.  That  sheets  of 
such  extreme  frailty  should  have  lasted  intact  for  a  hun- 
dred years  is  due  simply  to  the  fact  that  they  have  had  but 
four  owners  during  the  time.  This  manuscript  was  one  of 
the  many  that  fell  into  Severn's  hands  on  Keats's  death. 
There  never  seems  to  have  been  any  regular  distribution 
of  Keats's  belongings.  Brown,  in  England,  divided  Keats's 
books  among  his  friends  in  a  rough  and  ready  fashion,  allot- 
ting to  each  friend  such  volumes  as  each  had  given  the 
poet,  returning  lent  copies  to  their  rightful  owners,  and  as 
to  the  rest,  giving  some  away  and  keeping  the  remainder 
himself.  Others  of  Keats's  circle  appear  simply  to  have 
appropriated  to  themselves  whatever  relics  of  Keats  they 
happened  to  have.  Severn  evidently  regarded  himself  as 
heir  to  such  papers  as  Keats  had  carried  to  Rome.  Severn 
certainly  meant  well  in  constituting  himself  the  guardian 

1  Author's  Collection.    Locker-Lampson  manuscript  referred  to  by 
Buxton  Forman. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  157 

of  these  papers,  but  his  kind-hearted  simplicity  has  proved 
most  unfortunate  to  posterity.  For  Severn,  in  his  delight 
at  the  constantly  increasing  number  of  Keats's  admirers, 
could  not  bring  himself  to  refuse  requests  made  to  him  for 
"something  in  the  poet's  handwriting,"  and  to  meet  these 
demands  he  took  to  cutting  up  long  manuscripts  and  giv- 
ing them  away  a  few  lines  at  a  time.  One  of  the  copies  of 
Otho  the  Great  was  mutilated  in  this  way,  as  was  also  the 
Pot  of  Basil.  This  manuscript  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  lacks 
the  first  seven  stanzas,  or  the  first  original  sheet.  It  has 
been  suggested  that  the  sheet  was  separated  from  the  rest 
to  point  out  a  mistake  in  the  proof  which  Keats  referred  to 
in  a  letter  of  June  eleventh,  1820,  to  Taylor.  But  since 
Woodhouse  had  already  made  a  transcript  of  the  poem  for 
his  Commonplace  Book,  which  was  always  at  Taylor's  serv- 
ice for  consultation,1  since  also  the  mistake  which  Keats 
desired  corrected  was  perfectly  clear  without  any  reference 
to  the  manuscript,  it  seems  far  more  likely  that  the  separa- 
tion of  the  first  sheet  from  the  others  was  due  to  one  of 
Severn's  blundering  kindnesses.  Whatever  occurred,  no 
trace  of  this  missing  sheet  has  yet  been  found,  although  the 
letter  to  Taylor  has  been  preserved.2 

The  sources  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  have  occupied 
commentators  not  a  little.  Some  of  the  suggestions  made 
have  been  strangely  fantastic,  as  is  inevitable,  for  rare 
indeed  is  the  commentator  who  is  content  with  a  simple 
solution  to  any  query.  Leigh  Hunt,  who  reprinted  the 
poem  entire  in  his  London  Journal  on  January  twenty-first, 
1835,  interpolating  between  the  stanzas  a  most  interesting 
running  commentary,  and  reprinted  the  whole  again  in  his 
volume  Imagination  and  Fancy  y  published  in  1845,  *s  qu*te 
content  with  citing  the  old  and  well-known  legend  in  this 
connection.  The  rites  proper  to  be  performed  on  St.  Agnes' 
Eve  were  probably  as  familiar  to  earlier  generations  of  Eng- 
lish-speaking people  as  are  those  of  All  Hallowe'en  to  ours. 

1  Buxton  Forman.  *  Author's  Collection. 


158  JOHN  KEATS 

The  commentator  who  should  seek  far  afield  for  the  source 
of  a  poem  dealing  with  the  ceremonies  of  the  latter  night 
would,  I  think,  be  treated  to  an  amused  smile.  Even  suppos- 
ing that  Keats  needed  any  source  other  than  the  conversa- 
tion with  "  Mrs.  Jones,"  there  was  popular  rumour  and  the 
day  itself.  I  cannot  leave  this  aspect  of  the  poem,  however, 
without  just  glancing  at  two  of  the  most  recent  suggestions 
as  to  source.  They  are  both  ingenious,  but  each  is,  I  be- 
lieve, beside  the  mark,  although  for  very  different  reasons. 
The  first  of  these  suggestions  was  made  some  seventeen 
years  ago  by  Dr.  Henry  Noble  MacCracken.1  It  is  to  the 
effect  that  certain  analogies  to  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  are  to 
be  found  in  Boccaccio's  early  prose  romance,  IlFilocolo.  To 
my  mind,  these  analogies  are  by  no  means  so  cogent  as 
they  seem  to  Dr.  MacCracken,  and  for  a  very  simple 
reason:  every  one  of  them  belongs  to  the  stock  in  trade  of 
romantic  narrative  and  is  almost  as  much  a  commonplace 
of  the  type  as  is  the  existence  of  a  love  episode  itself.  In 
//  Filocoio,  the  two  lovers,  Florio  and  Biancofiori,  he  a 
Moorish  prince  of  Spain,  she  a  Christian  damsel,  are 
brought  up  together,  but  later  separated.  Their  childish 
affection  for  each  other  has  ripened  into  passion  with  the 
years,  and  their  enforced  separation  is  a  great  grief  to  both. 
On  one  occasion,  Florio  learns  that  Biancofiori  is  shut  up 
with  her  ladies  in  an  impregnable  tower.  On  the  eve  of  a 
festival,  he  manages  to  get  himself  conveyed  into  the 
tower  hidden  in  a  basket  of  roses.  Emerging  therefrom,  he 
throws  himself  on  the  mercy  of  Biancofiori's  aged  attendant, 
Glorizia,  begging  her  to  get  him  speech  with  her  mistress. 
Glorizia  promises  to  hide  him  in  Biancofiori's  bed-curtains. 
She  then  seeks  out  Biancofiori  and  invents  a  fictitious 
dream  in  which,  she  tells  the  lady,  she  beheld  Florio  enter- 
ing Biancofiori's  chamber  while  she  slept.  Biancofiori, 
much  comforted  by  the  dream,  mingles  in  the  festivities,  al- 

1  The  Source  of  Keats' s  'Eve  of  St.  Agnes?  in  Modem  Philology.  Vol.  V. 
1907-1908. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  159 

though  she  cannot  conceal  her  melancholy  mood.  Evening 
arrived,  and  Florio  duly  conducted  to  his  hiding  place, 
Biancofiori  comes  into  the  chamber,  where,  assisted  by 
Glorizia,  she  undresses,  the  old  crone  taking  care  to  keep 
her  impatience  for  Florio  at  stretch  by  suggesting  that  he 
may  perchance  come,  that  he  may  not,  in  short  that  either 
event  is  possible,  but  that  neither  can  be  predicted.  Bianco- 
fiori at  last  in  bed,  Glorizia  leaves  her,  and  after  a  time  the 
lady  falls  into  a  troubled  sleep  from  which  she  is  soon 
aroused  by  Florio  making  impassioned  love  to  her.  As  he 
does  so,  two  magic  carbuncles  suddenly  glow  with  a  soft 
light,  causing  the  chamber  to  become  as  bright  as  day. 
Biancofiori,  who  has  been  dreaming  the  actual  scene,  can- 
not at  first  reconcile  herself  to  an  awakening  which  she 
hardly  comprehends  to  be  a  realization.  Florio  finally 
convinces  her  that  the  fact  and  the  dream  are  identical. 
The  lovers  vow  themselves  to  each  other,  a  ring  is  ex- 
changed, and  the  night  is  passed  in  complete  understand- 
ing and  mutual  satisfaction. 

Boiled  down  to  absolute  resemblance,  what  do  these 
parallels  amount  to?  Next  to  nothing,  really.  A  young 
man  and  a  young  woman  are  deeply  in  love  with  each  other, 
but  separated  by  untoward  circumstances.  Keats's  un- 
toward circumstances  take  the  form  of  a  family  feud  divid- 
ing their  two  houses.  Keats  need  only  have  thought  for  a 
moment  of  Romeo  and  Juliet  to  have  conceived  that  much 
of  his  plot,  and  the  old  attendant  as  go-between  is  but  a 
duplicate  of  the  nurse  in  Shakespeare's  play  and  in  any  one 
of  a  dozen  old  romances.  A  lover  concealed  in  his  lady's 
chamber  is  part  of  the  machinery  of  romantic  narration  the 
world  over,  and  Keats's  method  of  handling  the  scene  is  as 
unlike  Boccaccio's  in  //  Filocolo  as  can  well  be  imagined. 
Keats's  lovers  flee  away  into  the  night  together.  Nothing 
of  the  sort  happens  in  //  Filocolo.  It  has  been  suggested 
that  the  magic  carbuncles  duplicate  Keats's  moonlight 
through  the  stained  glass  window.  But  why?  Keats  needed 


160  JOHN  KEATS 

no  carbuncles  to  remind  him  of  the  moon.  We  know  that 
he  was  reading  the  old  Spanish  romance,  Palmerin  of 
England,  in  Southey's  translation  just  about  this  time,  and 
I  have  already  shown  how  many  were  the  purely  colour 
passages  he  underscored  in  that  book.1 

It  will  be  seen,  therefore,  that  this  whole  episode  from  // 
Filocolo  bears  only  the  very  vaguest  resemblance  to  the 
structure  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes.  As  to  the  question  of 
whether  Keats  could  ever,  have  read,  or  been  told  of,  // 
Filocolo,  1  think  we  must  accord  it  a  decided  negative.  At 
the  time  Keats  wrote  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  y  he  could  not  read 
Italian.  He  read  the  Decameron  in  an  English  translation,2 
and  Dante  in  the  translation  of  the  Rev.  H.  F.  Gary.  In 
the  following  September,  Keats  had  started  to  read  a  little 
Italian,  beginning  with  Ariosto,  "not  managing  more  than 
six  or  seven  stanzas  at  a  time/'  but  that  he  had  reached  any 
such  point  by  the  beginning  of  the  year,  that  he  had  even 
looked  at  an  Italian  book  with  a  view  to  reading  it  at  that 
date,  there  seems  no  possible  reason  for  supposing.  And 
why  on  earth  should  he  have  wanted  to  read  this  extremely 
dull  early  work  of  Boccaccio  when  there  were  so  many 
better  books  which  he  might  have  read?  For  in  the 
original  he  must  have  read  it,  if  he  read  it  at  all,  since  there 
was  no  English  translation,  and  only  a  French  seventeenth 
century  one  which  there  is  no  reason  to  believe  he  had  ever 
come  across.  More  cogent  than  mere  speculation  on  the 
subject  is  the  fact  that  Hunt  suggests  no  such  source  for 
the  poem,  and  he  himself  was  the  most  likely  person  to  have 
turned  Keats's  attention  to  //  Filocolo  if  there  had  been 
any  turning  at  all,  which  it  seems  perfectly  evident  there 
was  not.  Boccaccio  took  parts  of  his  tale  from  the  old 
French  romance,  Florice  et  Blanche fleur.  It  would  take 
more  study  than  I  propose  to  give  to  the  subject  to  deter- 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  103;  also  Appendix  C. 

*  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  quotes  Woodhouse  to  the  effect  that  the  translation 
read  by  Keats  was  that  published  by  Allen  Awnmarch.  Fifth  Edition.  1624. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  161 

mine  where  Boccaccio  departed  from,  and  where  he  kept 
to,  his  original.  Suffice  it  to  say  that  a  fragmentary  Eng- 
lish mediaeval  version  of  the  romance,  quoted  by  George 
Ellis  in  his  Specimens  of  Early  English  Metrical  Romance 
published  in  1806,  a  book  which  Keats  may  have  read, 
contains  none  of  the  particular  incidents  upon  which  Dr. 
MacCracken  bases  his  theory.  In  the  light  of  all  this,  I 
think  we  may  dismiss  Dr.  MacCracken's  speculation  as 
interesting,  but  without  a  leg  to  stand  on. 

The  second  suggestion  of  source  which  I  have  mentioned 
was  made  three  or  four  years  ago  by  Miss  Martha  Hale 
Shackford.1  Miss  Shackford  considers  that  she  has  found 
certain  close  scenic  and  verbal  parallels  between  Keats's 
poem  and  Mrs.  Radcliffe's  Mysteries  of  Udolpho.  And  the 
truth  is  she  has  found  them;  but,  owing  to  the  perfectly 
unrelated  manner  in  which  she  has  been  obliged  to  cull 
them  from  Mrs.  Radcliffe's  novel,  they  prove  nothing 
more  than  a  vein  of  reminiscence,  if  I  may  so  express  it. 
Miss  Shackford  presents  her  theory  with  perfect  temperate- 
ness  and  common  sense,  and  without  demanding  more  for 
it  than  it  will  bear.  The  only  question  is  whether  it  can  be 
made  to  bear  anything  at  all  of  real  importance.  It  is  quite 
true,  as  Miss  Shackford  says  that: 

"The  setting  of  Mrs.  Radcliffe's  story  possessed  many 
elements  that  seemed  revived  by  Keats.  There  was  the 
solid  grandeur  of  an  ancient  Gothic  castle,  with  shadowy 
galleries,  mysterious  staircases,  moonlit  casements,  and 
gorgeous  apartments  hung  with  arras  glowing  with 
medieval  pageantry.  The  feudal  life  with  old  retainers 
serving  an  arrogant  master  and  his  carousing  friends  is 
pictured  in  both  works." 

Yet  there  is  an  essential  difference  here,  for  Mrs.  Radcliffe's 
story  is  laid  frankly  in  the  eighteenth  century,  its  medise- 

1  The  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  and  the  Mysteries  of  Udolpho,  by  Martha  Hale 
Shackford.  Reprinted  from  the  Publication  of  the  Modem  Language  Asso- 
ciation of  America.  Vol.  XXXVI.  No.  i.  1921. 


1 62  JOHN  KEATS 

valism  is  pure  pastiche,  while  Keats's  tale  is  chivalric 
legend  throughout. 

For  the  midnight  scene  in  the  chapel  in  the  Eve  of  St. 
Agnes,  Miss  Shackford  finds  striking  resemblances  in  two 
widely  separated  scenes  in  the  Mysteries  of  Udolpho,  one 
in  Chapter  vm,  the  other  in  Chapter  xxxi.  For  various 
references  to  the  old  woman  in  the  poem,  there  are  others 
to  an  old  woman  in  Chapter  XLIII  and  XLIV  of  the  novel. 
The  young  woman  guiding  the  old  woman  down  the  stair- 
case in  St.  Agnes  is  very  closely  tallied  in  the  last  of  these 
chapters,  but  the  errands  which  bring  about  this  parallel  of 
events  are  entirely  different. 

Miss  Shackford  cites  as  important  the  journey  through 
winding  passages  to  a  room,  and  indeed  the  analogies  here 
are  rather  striking.  In  Stanza  xill  of  the  poem,  Porphyro 

. .  followed  through  a  lowly  arched  way," 
and  eventually 

". . .  found  him  in  a  little  moonlight  room 
Pale,  lattic'd,  chill,  and  silent  as  a  tomb." 

And  in  Stanza  xxi  are  these  lines: 

". . .  Safe  at  last 

Through  many  a  dusky  gallery,  they  gain 
The  maiden's  chamber,  silken,  hush'd  and  chaste.' 

In  Chapter  xxxil  of  Udolpho  we  read:  "I  have  only  to 
go  ...  along  the  vaulted  passage  and  across  the  great  hall 
and  up  the  marble  staircase,  and  along  the  north  gallery 
and  through  the  west  wing  of  the  castle,  and  I  am  in  the 
corridor  in  a  minute,"  and  another  passage  of  much  the 
same  purport  appears  two  chapters  farther  on.  While 
toward  the  beginning  of  Udolpho  there  are  several  re- 
semblances: "As  she  passed  along  the  wide  and  empty 
galleries,  dusky  and  silent,  she  felt  forlorn  and  appre- 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  163 

hensive";  and  again,  some  hundred  pages  earlier,  "the 
lattices  were  thrown  back,  and  showed . . .  the  moonlight 
landscape";  and  twenty  pages  beyond  this,  "The  couches 
and  drapery  of  the  lattices  were  of  pale  green  silk,  em- 
broidered and  fringed  with  green  and  gold." 

Now  these  are  slight  things,  and  I  do  not  think  can  be 
properly  called  parallels  at  all,  yet  there  is  an  atmosphere 
in  them  which,  taken  apart  from  the  special  atmosphere 
of  Mrs.  Radcliffe's  book,  does  connote  the  atmosphere  of 
Keats's  poem.  It  is  as  though  Keats  found  lying  round 
in  his  mind  certain  knick-knacks  and  sparkling  trinkets 
dropped  from  an  old  dismantled  image  which  when 
furbished  up  and  set  to  a  new  and  different  use  prove  most 
acceptable  additions  to  an  already  ordered  scheme. 

Miss  Shackford  gives  various  references  to  stained  glass 
windows,  one  of  which 

".  .  .  by  the  blunted  light 
That  the  dim  moon  through  painted  casements  lends" 

is  not  from  Udolpho  at  all,  but  from  another  book  of 
Mrs.  Radcliffe's,  The  Emigrants.  There  are  also  various 
references  to  lutes,  and  to  the  sound  of  singing.  One  line  of 
St.  Agnes: 

"And  Madeline  asleep  in  lap  of  legends  old" 

Miss  Shackford  considers  "very  subtly  related,  possibly, 
to  a  verse  quoted  in  an  early  chapter  of  the  romance,  about 
a  landscape, 

'Beauty  sleeping  in  the  lap  of  horror.'" 

I  wonder  if  this  is  such  an  unusual  metaphor  as  Miss 
Shackford  thinks,  it  does  not  seem  so  to  me. 

I  wish  I  had  space  to  quote  more  of  Miss  Shackford's 
analogies,  but  I  have  given  enough  to  show  how  she  has 
determined  her  parallels.  To  find  verbal  verisimilitudes 
between  a  poem  three  hundred  and  seventy-eight  lines  long 


164  JOHN  KEATS 

and  a  four  volume  novel  was  a  task  requiring  unflagging 
zeal  and  bright  enthusiasm,  and  Miss  Shackford  has 
certainly  proved  how  deeply  the  Mysteries  of  Udolpho  had 
sunk  into  Keats's  mind.  Whether  this  was  all  reminiscence 
from  an  earlier  reading,  a  reminiscence  which  sprang  into 
life  when  contemplating  the  special  scenery  which  he 
needed  for  St.  Agnes>  or  whether  it  derived  from  a  recent 
re-reading  of  the  romance,  there  is  no  telling,  but  it  does 
seem  as  though  there  were  too  many  verbal  echoes  to  leave 
the  whole  matter  to  recollection.  For  instance,  Mrs.  Rad- 
cliffe  says:  "Silver  tripods,  depending  from  chains  of  the 
same  metal,  illumined  the  apartment";  Keats  writes: 

"A  chain-droop'd  lamp  was  flickering  by  each  door." 

Keats's  old  nurse  exclaims : "  Well-a-well-a-day ! "  Theresa, 
in  UdolphOy  uses  the  same  exclamation  in  a  slightly  differ- 
ent form,  "A-well-a-day."  Keats  puts:  "By  all  the  saints 
I  swear";  Mrs.  Radcliffe  has:  "You  must  promise  me  by 
all  the  saints." 

In  the  slang  of  the  day,  Miss  Shackford  "started  some- 
thing" with  her  theory,  but  what  she  started  was  not 
precisely  what  she  expected  it  to  be.  For,  closely  as  certain 
effects,  certain  expressions,  certain  scenic  properties  from 
Mrs.  Radcliflfe's  book  seem  to  have  stuck  in  Keats's  mind, 
deftly  as  he  appropriated  these  effects,  these  expressions, 
these  properties  to  his  own  use  whenever  he  needed  them, 
it  was  always  something  indubitably  his  own  that  they 
were  made  to  serve.  In  any  other  than  the  most  frag- 
mentary and  superficial  sense  there  is  no  slightest  re- 
semblance between  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  and  the  Mysteries 
of  Udolpho.  Not  in  plot,  touch,  nor  temper  are  the  two 
books  in  the  least  alike.  Miss  Shackford  has  shown  us  that 
Keats  was  far  more  familiar  with  Mrs.  Radcliffe's  works 
than  had  been  supposed,  that  is  the  principal  result  of  her 
inquiry.  The  way  in  which  Keats's  mind  hugged  im- 
pressions is  finely  demonstrated  in  her  paper,  as  too  is  his 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  165 

remarkable  way  of  divorcing  subsidiary  impressions  from 
a  total  effect,  so  making  it  possible  for  him  to  separate  the 
single  from  the  general,  the  essential  from  the  unimportant, 
that  which  was  suggestive  to  him  from  that  with  which  he 
had  no  concern.  Taken  thus,  as  a  quarry,  the  Mysteries  of 
Udolpho  may  well  be  reckoned  as  one  of  the  books  which 
had  considerable  to  do  with  Keats's  imaginative  develop- 
ment. Looked  at  from  this  angle,  Miss  Shackford's  paper 
is  of  great  value;  seen  from  the  viewpoint  of  a  possible 
"source"  for  St.  Agnes ,  in  the  generally  accepted  meaning 
of  that  term,  her  researches  lead  practically  nowhere. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  Keats  probably  owed  as  much  of  the 
peculiar  atmosphere  of  his  poem  to  Coleridge's  Christabel 
as  to  the  Mysteries  of  Udolpho.  Even  some  of  Miss  Shack- 
ford's  particular  parallels  are  duplicated  in  Christabel. 
There  are  the  hanging  lamps,  for  instance,  which  I  have 
already  cited,  and  which  in  Christabel  become 

"The  lamp  with  twofold  silver  chain." 

In  Udolpho,  Emily  has  a  favourite  dog  who  follows  her  and 
barks;  Keats  brings  in  a  "wakeful  bloodhound";  Coleridge 
has  a  "mastiff  bitch."  Keats's  debt  to  Christabel  was  very 
possibly  a  conscious  one;  his  debt  to  the  Mysteries  of 
Udolpho  was  in  all  likelihood  quite  unconscious.  For  Keats 
experienced  books  as  most  people  experience  life,  and  his 
leanings  upon  Mrs.  Radcliffe  seem  to  have  assumed  to  him 
something  of  the  form  of  a  childhood  recollection  not 
completely  risen  to  the  plane  of  thought.  At  the  same 
time,  we  must  not  forget  that  the  Mysteries  of  Udolpho  was 
almost  certain  to  have  been  on  old  Mr.  Dilke's  shelves, 
and  Keats  may  have  been  moved  to  glance  through  it 
again  in  an  idle  moment,  without  any  conscious  connection 
between  it  and  his  poem;  the  result  of  such  re-reading  would 
be  to  stir  up  forgotten  pools  of  memory  of  which  he  himself 
would  scarcely  be  aware. 
The  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  is  one  of  those  poems,  often  among 


166  JOHN  KEATS 

the  most  beautiful,  which  spring  out  of  reading.    It  is 
written  in  the  Spenserian  stanza,  and  contains  more  than 
one  reference  to  Spenser.  Here  are  bits  of  Gary's  Dante- 
suggestions  of  the  Elizabethans;  chips  of  Chatterton;  a 
fragment  of  Burton;  a  little  flash  from  Shakespeare.  For 
all  these  strands  of  reminiscence  I  must  refer  my  readers 
to  Buxton  Forman's  and  Professor  de  Selincourt's  editions. 
Extraordinarily  interesting  as  these  things  are,  I  cannot 
dwell  too  long  upon  them  here.    It  is  high  time  that  we  re- 
turned to  the  poem  itself,  and  to  its  subject,  which  is  its 
one  indisputable  source  —  the  legend  of  St.  Agnes'  Eve. 
Leigh  Hunt  adduces  Brand's  Popular  Antiquities  as  a 
convenient  book  in  which  to  read  of  the  legend.  This  work, 
first  published  in  1813  in  an  edition  of  two  quarto  volumes 
edited  by  Sir  Henry  Ellis  after  Brand's  manuscript  notes, 
was  probably  well  known  to  Keats.   In  it  is  given  a  brief 
sketch  of  the  legend  proper,  and  a  much  longer  commentary 
on  the  popular  superstitions  and  ceremonies  which  had 
grown  up  about  it.    St.  Agnes  was  a  Roman  virgin,  a 
convert   to   Christianity,   who  was   sentenced   to   suffer 
martyrdom  in  the  tenth  persecution  under  the  Emperor 
Diocletian,  A.D.  306.   According  to  the  legend,  "She  was 
condemned  to  be  debauched  in  the  public  stews  before  her 
execution,  but  her  virginity  was  miraculously  preserved  by 
thunder  and  lightning.1    Not  long  after  her  death,  her 
parents,  going  to  pray  at  her  tomb,  saw  in  a  vision  a  host  of 
angels  with  their  dead  daughter  in  the  midst,  and  a  lamb 
standing  beside  her  as  white  as  snow,  an  emblem  of  her 
spotless  purity.  With  the  centuries,  St.  Agnes  assumed  in 
the  popular  mind  a  special  tenderness  toward  pure  young 
girls,  and  took  them  under  her  protection  to  the  extent  of 
according  them  the  power  of  seeing  their  future  husbands 
in  a  dream  on  one  night  of  the  year,  the  eve  of  the  day 
sacred  to  her.  Certain  ri  tes  had  to  be  performed  preparatory 
to  the  receiving  of  this  boon,  of  which  the  principal  seems 

1  Brand's  Popular  Antiquities. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  167 

to  have  been  that  the  girl  who  courted  St.  Agnes'  favour 
must  fast  all  day  and  go  to  bed  fasting,  and  must  not  kiss 
man,  woman,  or  child  until  her  dream  lover  broke  the  fast 
with  her.  This  was  called  "fasting  St.  Agnes'  fast."  The 
young  girl  must  lie  on  her  back  with  her  arms  clasped  be- 
neath her  head,  and  falling  asleep  in  this  position  she  will 
dream  that  a  man  is  standing  beside  her  bed,  and  that 
man  she  will  marry.  These  rites  differ  somewhat  in  differ- 
ent places,  and  Brand  gives  one  or  two  variants  of  them, 
but  as  the  one  I  have  given  was  the  one  followed  by  Keats 
we  need  not  concern  ourselves  with  the  others.  Among 
many  quotations  which  show  the  prevalence  of  the  custom, 
Brand  prints  some  lines  from  Ben  Jonson's  Satyr,  which 
were  probably  familiar  to  Keats.  They  are: 

"And  on  sweet  St.  Anna's1  night 
Please  you  with  the  promised  sight, 
Some  of  husbands,  some  of  lovers, 
Which  an  empty  dream  discovers." 

To  see  one's  love  in  a  dream,  and  know  that  however 
many  ups  and  downs  the  waking  course  of  true  love  is 
obliged  to  undergo  the  desired  end  will  certainly  be  ac- 
complished eventually,  must  have  been  a  very  sympathetic 
idea  to  Keats,  enduring  his  first  separation  from  Fanny 
Brawne.  His  whole  soul  was  in  St.  Agnes'  Eve^  his  humanity 
and  his  genius  sublimating  themselves  through  the  longing 
of  separation  into  a  finely  tempered  whole.  This  is  Keats's 
first  completely  successful  long  poem,  and  the  first  of  his 
narratives  not  disfigured  by  glaring  immaturities.  Per- 
haps Hunt  is  not  far  wrong  when  he  says:  "Among  his 
finished  productions,  however,  of  any  length,  the  Eve  of  St. 
Agnes  still  appears  to  me  the  most  delightful  and  complete 
specimen  of  his  genius."  And  he  goes  on: "  It  is  young,  but 

1  Professor  de  Selincourt  points  out  that  Ben  Jonson  probably  changed 
the  name  "Agnes"  to  "Anna"  out  of  compliment  to  Queen  Anne,  for  whose 
entertainment  the  Masque  of  The  Satyr  was  performed. 


168  JOHN  KEATS 

full-grown  poetry  of  the  rarest  description;  graceful  as  the 
beardless  Apollo;  glowing  and  gorgeous  with  the  colours  of 
romance."  Hunt's  expression  here  is  a  little  florid,  but  has 
he  not  gone  to  the  core  of  the  matter?  And  Hunt  knew 
what  he  was  talking  about,  no  man  better.  Here  is  what  he 
has  to  say  of  Keats's  technique:  "Let  the  student  of  poetry 
observe,  that  in  all  the  luxury  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  there 
is  nothing  of  the  conventional  craft  of  artificial  writers;  no 
heaping  up  of  words  or  similes  for  their  own  sakes  or  for  the 
rhyme's  sake;  no  gaudy  common-places;  no  borrowed  airs 
of  earnestness;  no  tricks  of  inversion;  no  substitution  of 
reading  or  of  ingenious  thoughts  for  feeling  or  spontaneity: 
no  irrelevancy  or  unfitness  of  any  sort.  All  flows  out  of 
sincerity  and  passion.  The  writer  is  as  much  in  love  with 
the  heroine  as  the  hero  is;  his  description  of  the  painted 
window,  however  gorgeous,  has  not  an  untrue  or  super- 
fluous word;  and  the  only  speck  of  a  fault  in  the  whole 
poem  arises  from  an  excess  of  emotion." 

An  excess  of  emotion  there  certainly  is  in  the  Eve  of  St. 
/ignesy  but  however  much  of  a  fault  that  may  be  in  certain 
types  of  poetry  —  and  unquestionably  controlled  emotion 
is  generally  far  more  effective  than  that  which  is  over- 
expressed  —  in  this  particular  poem  I  cannot  regard  it  as  a 
fault.  The  poem  is  singularly  homogeneous  in  texture.  It 
is  all  one  long  sensuous  utterance.  Not  sensual  —  it  is 
never  that  —  but  lyrical.  It  is  an  expression  of  lyrical 
emotion  presented  in  the  form  of  a  tale.  In  it,  Keats  writes 
as  poet  and  astounding  craftsman.  Every  scrap  of  effec- 
tual knowledge  which  he  knew  he  wrought  into  it;  his  feel- 
ing for  colour,  his  sensitiveness  to  verbal  music,  his  power 
of  condensed  suggestion,  these  are  all  here.  His  very  pro- 
fusion is  a  part  of  his  effect.  No  one  of  Keats's  manu- 
scripts which  I  have  seen  is  so  carefully  worked  over  as 
this.  A  glance  at  the  reproduction  of  two  of  the  pages  of 
the  first  draft  will  show  how  shrewdly  and  carefully  he 
shaped  and  reshaped  his  material,  always  with  the  object 


v  S     >         A,   3       „,     *         ^^      •"«      '  '  X-  " 

s  ^4ii«,*:i  -.^  t&l 


to 

W 
£ 
O 

< 

H    ., 


u 

ffi 

H 


O  ^ 


PC 
Q 


U 
O 


O 

£ 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  169 

of  increasing  some  splendour,  making  clearer  some  manner 
of  feeling,  adding  some  brighter  lustre  to  an  image,  capti- 
vating the  ear  with  some  stranger,  more  unexpected,  har- 
mony of  sound.  This  was  Keats  following  his  own  advice 
tendered  to  Shelley  a  year  and  a  half  later  to  "load  every 
rift  with  ore."  His  mood  was  the  antithesis  of  astringent. 
His  prime  care  was  to  give  his  emotion  full  rein,  only  en- 
deavoring to  keep  the  expression  of  it  to  the  level  of  his 
best  achievement,  and  in  this  he  signally  succeeded.  To 
those  people  who  are  forever  condemning  the  sensuous 
aspect  of  Keats's  conception  of  love,  there  is  but  one 
answer.  That  sensuous  beauty  of  this  kind  is  its  own  per- 
fect excuse,  and  we  already  know  that  natural  beauty  of 
all  sorts  stood  to  Keats  as  a  religion,  or,  at  least,  as  the  sole 
possible  way  of  expressing  the  truths  which  were  religion 
to  him.  St.  Agnes'  Eve  was  a  great  choral  hymn  written  to 
celebrate  his  love  for  Fanny  Brawne.  To  say  that  he  had 
to  be  separated  from  her  to  bring  it  into  existence,  is 
merely  to  state  a  truism  of  the  functioning  of  the  creative 
faculty.  Poetry  is  seldom  written  in  the  midst  of  an  action 
or  a  state  of  being;  reflection  is  its  essence.  It  is  the  per- 
fume of  something  which  has  been,  but  is  not;  a  remem- 
brance and  a  hope,  but  a  fact  no  longer. 

I  suppose  that  few  poems  in  the  English  language  are  so 
well  known  and  so  much  loved  as  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes.  It 
stands  as  a  personal  efflorescence  to  generation  after 
generation  of  young  people.  This  is  a  poem  for  youth,  and 
youth  alone  is  capable  of  appraising  it.  As  we  grow  older, 
we  may  come  to  prefer  others  of  Keats's  poems  to  it,  but 
to  the  age  to  which  it  appeals  it  is  completely  satisfying, 
and  little  more  praise  can  be  given  to  any  poem  than  this. 
Browning  has  spoken  of  "  the  last  of  life  for  which  the  first 
was  made,"  a  consoling  idea  to  those  who  see  life  constantly 
shortening  in  front  of  them;  but  was  he  right?  I  fear  not. 
Youth  is  more  than  age,  energy  worth  more  than  medi- 
tation. The  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  is  a  paeon  of  youth,  a  great 


170  JOHN  KEATS 

masterpiece  and  epitome  of  one  of  the  principal  ages  of 
man. 

I  call  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  a  "choral  hymn"  and  I  do  so 
advisedly,  for  its  effect  is  not  single  and  melodic,  but 
massed  and  contrapuntal,  and  this  double  effect  is  kept  up 
throughout.  In  the  first  place,  there  is  the  environment  and 
the  time  set  with  the  extreme  of  clarity  in  the  opening 
stanzas  of  the  poem:  the  freezing  Winter  night,  outside  the 
castle;  inside,  the  chill  chapel  with  the  monuments  of  dead 
knights  and  ladies  who  seem  to  "ache  in  icy  hoods  and 
mails."  The  cold  night  is  made  none  the  less  bitter  by 
the  draughty  gusts  of  loud  music  which  sweep  along  the 
corridors,  and  this  metallic  music,  this  piercing  sound  of 
"silver,  snarling  trumpets,"  gains  an  added  touch  of  mag- 
nificence and  chill  from  its  juxtaposition  to  the  sculptured 
architraves  from  which 

"The  carved  angels,  ever  eager-eyed, 

Star'd,  where  upon  their  heads  the  cornice  rests, 
With  hair  blown  back,  and  wings  put  cross-wise  on  their 
breasts." 

This,  which  we  may  call  the  motif  of  night,  and  cold, 
and  heartless  splendour,  is  never  allowed  to  sink  out  of 
consciousness  for  very  long;  even  when  the  love  motif 
itself  is  in  full  swing,  in  the  scene  between  Porphyro  and 
Madeline  in  Madeline's  chamber,  suddenly  across  the 
silence 

"The  boisterous,  midnight,  festive  clarion, 
The  kettle-drum,  and  far-heard  clarinet, 
Affray  his  ears,  though  but  in  dying  tone: — 
The  hall  door  shuts  again,  and  all  the  noise  is  gone." 

And  it  follows  through  to  the  end  of  the  poem,  in  the  de- 
scription of  the  arras  which  lines  the  passages  along  which 
the  lovers  flee, 

"Flutter'd  in  the  besieging  wind's  uproar," 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  171 

in  the  drunken  Porter  asleep  "in  uneasy  sprawl,"  in  the 
"wakeful  blood-hound/'  in  the  "foot-worn  stones"  of  the 
hall,  and  the  door  groaning  upon  its  hinges. 

The  second  theme  of  the  poem  is  the  story  of  Porphyro 
and  Madeline,  with  its  symbols  of  the  fast  and  the  subse- 
quent supper,  as  lightly  and  delicately  tinted  as  the  great 
hall  is  grey  with  sculptured  stone  and  garish  with  plumes 
and  flashing  armour.  Throughout  the  poem,  Keats  plays 
two  sets  of  impressions,  of  emotions,  against  each  other.  To 
the  sound  of  the  kettle-drums  and  metallic  wind  instru- 
ments, he  opposes  strings,  the  strings  of  a  lute.  Against  the 

"  .  .  argent  revelry 
With  plume,  tiara,  and  all  rich  array," 

in  the  "thronged  resort"  of  the  great  hall,  he  sets  the 
"pallid  moonshine"  of  the  little  still  chamber,  and  the 
faint,  beautiful  colours  thrown  by  the  moonlit  window. 
Never  was  riot  more  skilfully  made  to  enhance  silence.  The 
world,  and  the  soul;  the  life  of  outward  seeming  and  in- 
ward fruition  —  no  allegory,  but  a  provable  and  proven 
fact. 

But  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  is  more  than  simply  choral,  it  is 
antiphonal  as  well.  For  Keats,  even  in  the  heydey  of  his 
love  experience,  could  not  quite  shake  off"  his  natural 
morbidness.  Sinister,  cynical,  the  mutter  of  death  shudders 
always  just  beneath  the  surface  of  the  tale.  The  lovers  are 
happy,  but  beside  them  in  the  castle  death  sweeps  upon  its 
prey.  Angela,  the  Beadsman,  both  die;  the  storm  which 
protects  the  flight  of  the  lovers  howls  round  the  castle 
suddenly  become  a  tomb.  It  is  the  old  story  of  the  cruelty 
of  nature.1  For  two  who  are  happy,  life  demands  the 
insatiable  toll  of  death.  It  is  no  mere  charming  tale  of  love 
which  Keats  has  written  here,  but  a  profoundly  dramatic 
study  of  an  unplumbed  mystery.  And  it  is  on  this  note 
that  Keats  ends  his  poem. 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  614. 


172  JOHN  KEATS 

St.  Agnes'  Eve  is  so  familiar  to  all  readers  of  poetry  that 
any  detailed  description  of  it  seems  unnecessary.  Neverthe- 
less, there  are  a  few  little  points  which  I  wish  to  touch  upon 
before  we  finish  with  it  for  the  moment.  One  thing  which 
should  be  carefully  noted  is  the  extraordinary  way  in 
which  Keats  was  able  to  stay  the  movement  of  composition 
in  order  to  correct  his  impulse.  This  is  a  very  difficult 
thing  to  do,  and  yet,  in  this  instance,  much  alteration,  and 
several  false  starts,  do  not  seem  to  have  lessened  the  vigour, 
the  ttari)  of  his  creative  power  in  the  slightest  degree.  A 
careful  study  of  the  two  pages  which  I  have  reproduced 
will  teach  a  student  more  of  the  marvellous  way  in  which 
Keats  was  capable  of  holding  to  the  thread  of  his  uncon- 
scious creation,  while  at  the  same  time  consciously  employ- 
ing his  critical  faculty,  than  pages  of  explanation  could  do. 
All  these  variations  and  changes  are  reproduced  by  Buxton 
Forman,1  but  only  by  seeing  them  set  down  as  Keats,  in 
the  hurry  of  composition,  wrote  them,  can  we  really  compre- 
hend how,  and  why,  they  came  to  his  mind. 

The  stanzas  about  the  window  are  in  many  ways  the 
finest  in  the  poem.  What  if  Keats  did  make  the  mistake  of 
supposing  that  moonlight  was  strong  enough  to  transmit 
the  colour  values  of  stained  glass,  does  it  matter  a  jot? 
Would  any  one  wish  these  stanzas  away  because  they  are 
false  to  fact?  The  truth  of  art  is  not  necessarily  the  truth  of 
nature.  Where  a  poet  has  made  undeniable  beauty,  the 
critic  does  well  who  refrains  from  applying  a  rule  of  thumb. 

Hunt  has  pointed  out  what  appears  a  distinct  weakness 
in  Stanza  xxv,  where  Keats  says  that  Porphyro,  looking 
at  Madeline  kneeling  beneath  the  moonlit  window,  "grew 
faint"  at  the  sight  of  her  purity  and  loveliness.  Hunt  did  not 
apparently  know  that  this  faintness  was  part  and  parcel  of 
romance  narrative,  and  that  Keats  was  merely  following  a 
very  old  model  in  introducing  it,  but,  leaving  that  aside, 

1  The  Compute  Works  of  John  Keats,  Edited  by  H.  Buxton  Forman. 
5  vols.  Gowans  &  Gray.  Glasgow,  1900-1901. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  173 

what  Hunt  has  to  say  on  this  subject  is  absolute  truth,  and 
should  be  taken  into  consideration  by  every  reader: 

"He  had,  at  the  time  of  his  writing  this  poem,  the  seeds 
of  a  mortal  illness  in  him,  and  he,  doubtless,  wrote  as  he 
had  felt,  for  he  was  also  deeply  in  love;  and  extreme 
sensibility  struggled  in  him  with  a  great  understanding." 

That  last  clause  might  be  taken  as  a  motto  for  Keats's  life. 
Some  years  ago,  there  was  a  good  deal  of  controversy  in 
the  newspapers  as  to  the  exact  meaning  of  the  line: 

"Clasp'd  like  a  missal  where  swart  Paynims  pray." 

What  the  various  proponents  of  certain  ingenious  guesses 
said,  is  of  no  moment,  for  what  Keats  meant  was  assuredly 
known  to  Hunt,  who  explains  the  line  in  this  way: 

" Clasp'd  like  a  missal  in  a  land  of  Pagans:  that  is  to  say, 
where  Christian  prayer-books  must  not  be  seen,  and  are, 
therefore,  doubly  cherished  for  the  danger." 

A  single  one  of  these  newspaper  epistles  made  a  valuable 
suggestion,  however.  I  quote  a  part  of  this  letter: 

1 "  In  seeking  for  the  source  of  Keats's  line  in  the  '  Eve  of 
St.  Agnes,' 

'Clasp'd  like  a  missal  where  swart  Paynims  pray,' 
it  may  be  well  to  ask  whether  the  poet  was  not  referring  to 
a  particular  book.  If  a  certain  missal  was  much  written 
and  talked  about  in  literary  circles  at  this  time,  and  if 
further  it  was  a  missal  that  had  been  used  by  Christians 
dwelling  among  the  swart  paynims  (all  of  whom,  as  good 
Mohammedans,  are  pretty  regular  in  their  praying),  there 
is  a  chance  that  this  was  the  book  that  touched  the  poet's 
imagination  and  supplied  the  simile. 

As  it  happens,  a  copy  of  a  missal  which  meets  these 
conditions  is  now  in  the  British  Museum.  It  appears  in 
the  catalogue  as  '  Missak  mixtum  secundum  regulam  beati 

1  From  a  letter  by  Professor  Fred  Newton  Scott,  University  of  Michi- 
gan, in  the  New  York  Evening  Post,  May  3,  1911. 


174  JOHN  KEATS 

I'sidori  dictum  Mozarabes .  .  .  In  regali  civitate  Toleti,  1500.' 
The  character  of  this  missal,  and  its  repute  among  book 
fanciers  of  Keats?s  time,  are  indicated  by  [certain]  notes 
upon  Lord  Spencer's  copy  at  Althorp,  in  T.  F.  Dibdin's 

'  Bibliotheca  Spenceriana' . . . 

That  Keats  actually  saw  either  Dibdin's  work  or  the 
missal  itself  there  is,  as  far  as  I  know,  no  proof,  although  it 
is  not  greatly  straining  probability  to  suppose  that  he  saw 
both.  Keats  was  in  1818-19  often  at  the  house  of  Charles 
Wentworth  Dilke,  and  it  may  be  that  he  saw  Dibdin's 
work  in  Dilke's  library.  I  put  the  question  some  time  ago 
in  a  letter  to  the  late  Sir  Charles  Dilke  and  received  from 
him  the  following  reply: 

'Alas!  I  can't  be  sure,  but  I  think  I  remember  that  this 
book  was  either  at  Belmont  Castle  (my  great  aunt's)  or 
at  Chichester.  My  great-grandfather's  books,  etc.,  were 
divided  between  my  great  uncle  and  his  sister.  I  took  from 
both  libraries  the  books  of  my  great-grandfather  which  had 
his  book  plate,  but  it  is  not  among  them.1" 

It  is  so  extremely  likely  that  Keats  should  have  seen 
Dibdin's  Bibliotheca  Spenceriana  at  one  of  these  two  houses, 
since  it,  like  all  Dibdin's  books,  was  extremely  popular 
with  antiquarians,  that  I  think  Professor  Scott's  suggestion 
should  not  be  left  hidden  in  the  files  of  a  newspaper.  When 
we  consider  the  strangeness  of  Keats's  simile,  a  quasi-clue 
of  this  sort  is  not  to  be  slighted. 

One  more  thing  I  wish  my  readers  to  notice.  The  grad- 
ual increasing  and  brightening  of  the  colours  as  the  love- 
scene  continues,  and  the  marvellous  way  in  which  these 
colours  are  managed.  From  the  lights  of  the  window,  the 
symbol  is  continued  through  the  banquet;  but  the  window 
tints  are  stated,  the  hues  of  the  fruits  merely  implied,  it 
would  have  marred  both  effects  to  have  duplicated  the 
technique  employed  in  them.  The  window  colours  and  the 
colour  of  the  table-cloth  are  "flat,"  given  simply  as  them- 
selves; the  fruits  are  heightened  by  inference,  they  are  full, 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  175 

rounded,  literary,  if  you  like,  and  this  change  in  the  method 
of  presentation  sets  them  before  us  in  the  most  excellent 
relief.  From  this  moment,  the  room  becomes  warm  with 
"  perfume  light."  It  is  a  beautiful  conceit  to  have  For- 
phyro  think  of  these  colours  —  the  "lustrous  salvers" 
gleaming  in  the  moonlight,  the  "golden  fringe"  of  the 
table-cover  lying  upon  the  carpet  —  as  almost  noisy  in 
their  effect,  as  though  so  much  brilliance  must  wake  Made- 
line. 

It  has  been  the  fashion  to  condemn  Keats's  "carpets." 
Unnecessary  preciosity!  Carpets  were  known  in  Europe 
even  before  the  assumed  period  of  Keats's  poem.1  They 
seem  to  have  been  chiefly  used  for  ladies'  bowers,  so  that 
the  presence  of  one  in  Madeline's  chamber  was  entirely  ac- 
cording to  custom.  As  to  those  in  the  corridors,  there  is 
no  absolute  reason  to  condemn  them,  but  it  is  quite  possi- 
ble to  conclude  that  Keats  here  used  the  word  "carpet" 
in  its  sense  of  "covering,"  and  meant  to  imply  woven 
rushes  rather  than  woven  stuffs. 

The  colour  symbols  having  served  their  turn,  Keats 
quenches  them  with  the  setting  of  St.  Agnes'  moon  and  the 
beginning  of  the  elfin  storm.  Admirable  indeed  is  Keats's 
manipulation  of  his  various  themes  and  meanings  in  the 
last  five  stanzas  of  the  poem.  Even  at  the  very  moment 
when  we  are  told  of  Porphyro  that  "into  her  dream  he 
melted,"  at  that  very  instant  come  the  words: 

"  .  .  .  meantime  the  frost- wind  blows 

Like  Love's  alarum  pattering  the  sharp  sleet 
Against  the  window-panes;  St.  Agnes'  moon  hath  set." 

The  dream  is  over,  reality  has  begun.  Past  death,  mis- 
understanding, the  imprisonment  of  personality,  the  lovers 
escape  toward  life  together,  not  into  a  live-happy-ever- 
after  kind  of  existence,  but  into  the  stress  and  storm  of  a 
future  which  at  least  they  face  side  by  side. 

1  Encyclopedia  Britannica.  Eleventh  Edition. 


176  JOHN  KEATS 

Begun  at  Chichester,  continued  undoubtedly  at  Bed- 
hampton,  and  gone  on  with,  we  know,  after  Keats's  return 
to  Hampstead,  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  did  not  receive  its  final 
revisions  until  the  following  Autumn  at  Winchester. 

On  Saturday,  January  twenty-third,  Keats  and  Brown 
left  old  Mr.  Dilke's  and  walked  over  to  Bedhampton  to  the 
Snooks',  a  distance  of  ten  miles;  although  they  reached  the 
Snooks'  house  by  three,  Brown  records  that  they  found 
dinner  already  over.  In  the  same  paragraph  in  which  he 
mentions  this  disappointing  fact,  Brown  tells  Mrs.  Dilke 
that  "  Keats  is  much  better,  owing  to  a  strict  forbearance 
from  a  third  glass  of  wine."  The  reference  to  the  wine  is  a 
joke,  yet  it  seems  to  have  been  a  fact  that  Keats's  sore 
throat  was  a  little  better  during  the  first  days  of  his  stay 
away  from  home.  But  the  improvement  was  short-lived. 
On  his  return  to  Hampstead,  he  wrote  his  sister:  "At  Bed- 
hampton I  was  unwell  and  did  not  go  out  of  the  Garden 
Gate  but  twice  or  thrice  during  the  fortnight  I  was  there." 
A  singular  excursion  provided  by  his  hosts  for  Monday,  the 
twenty-fifth,  the  second  day  after  his  arrival,  was  a  dis- 
tinct imprudence  for  Keats,  undertaken,  as  it  was,  in  the 
rain.  A  famous  Jew  converter,  the  Rev.  Mr.  Lewis  Way, 
who  lived  at  Stanstead  House  near  Racton  in  Sussex,  had 
built  a  chapel  in  his  park,  and  the  chapel  was  to  be  conse- 
crated on  that  day  with  the  Bishops  of  Gloucester  and 
St.  Davids  officiating.  Why  such  an  occasion  should  have 
been  expected  to  interest  Keats,  is  a  query.  To  be  sure, 
Mr.  Way  bore  the  remarkable  reputation  of  having  visited 
all  the  chief  rabbis  from  Rotterdam  to  Moscow  in  his 
efforts  at  proselytizing.  It  had  taken  him  nearly  a  year  to 
accomplish  this  feat,  and  he  was  become  a  distinct  celebrity 
in  local  and  church  circles  thereby.  To  the  consecration,  in 
duty  bound,  Keats  went,  "Brown,  I,  and  John  Snook  the 
boy  ...  in  a  chaise  behind  a  leaden  horse.  Brown  drove, 
but  the  horse  did  not  mind  him."  We  can  imagine  the  soggy 
roads,  the  trio  crushed  beneath  the  pulled-over  hood  of  the 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  i?7 

chaise,  the  everlasting  slow  plod  of  the  horse,  the  smell  of 
damp  leather  and  steaming  horseflesh,  the  occasional  low 
branch  catching  the  chaise  top  and  showering  a  sudden 
volley  of  little  drops  inside.  It  was  a  depressing  drive,  and 
to  Keats  a  depressing  occasion.  It  aroused  all  his  spleen 
toward  established  religious  organizations.  This  sort  of 
thing  was  the  negation  of  religion  to  him,  it  irritated  him 
beyond  measure  and  he  let  himself  go  about  it  in  a  letter  to 
George  written  soon  after  he  got  back  to  town: 

"  The  consecration  was  —  not  amusing.  There  were  num- 
bers of  carriages  —  and  his  house  crammed  with  clergy. 
They  sanctified  the  chapel,  and  it  being  a  wet  day,  conse- 
crated the  burial-ground  through  the  vestry  window.  I  be- 
gin to  hate  parsons;  they  did  not  make  me  love  them  that 
day,  when  I  saw  them  in  their  proper  colours.  A  parson  is 
a  Lamb  in  a  drawing-room,  and  a  Lion  in  a  vestry.  The 
notions  of  Society  will  not  permit  a  parson  to  give  way 
to  his  temper  in  any  shape  —  so  he  festers  in  himself  — 
his  features  get  a  peculiar,  diabolical,  self-sufficient,  iron 
stupid  expression.  He  is  continually  acting  —  his  mind  is 
against  every  man,  and  every  man's  mind  is  against  him. 
He  is  an  hypocrite  to  the  Believer  and  a  coward  to  the  un- 
believer. He  must  be  either  a  knave  or  an  idiot  —  and 
there  is  no  man  so  much  to  be  pitied  as  an  idiot  parson. 
The  soldier  who  is  cheated  into  an  Esprit  de  Corps  by  a  red 
coat,  a  band,  and  colours,  for  the  purpose  of  nothing,  is 
not  half  so  pitiable  as  the  parson  who  is  led  by  the  nose  by 
the  bench  of  bishops  and  is  smothered  in  absurdities  —  a 
poor  necessary  subaltern  of  the  Church." 

Keats's  opinion  of  the  clergy  had  recently  received  a 
severe  set-back  from  his  learning  of  the  sudden  and  un- 
expected engagement  of  his  friend  Bailey  to  Miss  Hamilton 
Gleig,  the  daughter  of  Bishop  Gleig,  and  the  sister  of  his 
intimate  friend.  I  have  spoken  of  this  event  before;1  we  are 
concerned  with  it  now  merely  as  it  affected  Keats.  The  un- 
fortunate character  of  this  affair  was  due  simply  to  the  fact 

1  See  Vol.  I,  pp.  478-479- 


178  JOHN  KEATS 

that  Bailey  had  gone  to  Scotland  the  declared,  although 
not  the  accepted,  suitor  of  Marianne  Reynolds.  Looking 
at  the  matter  from  this  distance  of  time,  it  seems  a  little 
fantastic  to  hold  a  man  bound  to  a  woman  who  had 
definitely  refused  him.  But  middle-class  etiquette  in  such 
matters  was  very  severe  in  the  England  of  the  early  nine- 
teenth century.  Keats  was  profoundly  shocked,  and  his 
opinion  seems  to  have  been  duplicated  by  all  the  Reynolds 
circle.  By  Bailey's  behaviour,  Keats  tells  George, 

"all  his  connections  in  town  have  been  annulled  —  both 
male  and  female.  I  do  not  now  remember  clearly  the  facts. 
These  however  I  know  —  He  showed  his  correspondence 
with  Marian  to  Gleig  —  returned  all  her  Letters  and  asked 
for  his  own  —  he  also  wrote  very  abrupt  Letters  to  Mrs. 
Reynolds .  . .  No  doubt  his  conduct  has  been  very  bad. 
The  great  thing  to  be  considered  is  —  whether  it  is  want  of 
delicacy  and  principle  or  want  of  knowledge  and  polite 
experience.  And  again  weakness  —  yes,  that  is  it;  and  the 
want  of  a  Wife  —  yes,  that  is  it ...  Mariana's  obstinacy  is 
some  excuse  —  but  his  so  quickly  taking  to  Miss  Gleig  can 
have  no  excuse  —  except  that  of  a  Ploughman  who  wants 
a  wife.  The  thing  which  sways  me  more  against  him  than 
anything  else  is  Rice's  conduct  on  the  occasion;  Rice 
would  not  make  an  immature  resolve;  he  was  ardent  in  his 
friendship  for  Bailey,  he  examined  the  whole  for  and 
against  minutely;  and  he  has  abandoned  Bailey  entirely. 
All  this  I  am  not  supposed  by  the  Reynoldses  to  have  any 
idea  of." 

These  remarks  about  Bailey  led  Keats  to  a  beautiful  and 
wise  observation,  one  of  those  observations  which  show  us 
the  very  heart  and  core  of  his  continual  reflections: 

"A  Man's  life  of  any  worth  is  a  continual  allegory,  and 
very  few  eyes  can  see  the  Mystery  of  his  life  —  a  life  like 
the  scriptures,  figurative  —  which  such  people  can  no 
more  make  out  than  they  can  the  Hebrew  Bible.  Lord 
Byron  cuts  a  figure  but  he  is  not  figurative  —  Shakespeare 
led  a  life  of  Allegory:  his  works  are  the  comments  on  it." 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  179 

Bailey  seems  to  have  kept  all  Keats's  letters,  and  that  he 
should  have  received  none  on  the  occasion  of  Tom's  death 
certainly  looks  as  though  Keats  knew  this  long  story  some 
time  earlier  than  he  wrote  it  to  George,  in  February.  When- 
ever he  found  it  out,  it  put  a  succinct  end  to  any  farther 
real  friendship  between  them.  Keats  does  not  seem  to  have 
mentioned  the  subject  to  Bailey,  merely  to  have  dropped 
Bailey  quietly  and  unobtrusively.  One  more  letter  to 
Bailey  we  have,  written  in  the  following  August,  but  it 
reads  more  like  an  attempt  to  appear  easy  than  anything 
else,  as  though  Keats  thought  it  wise  to  keep  up  the 
semblance  of  a  relation,  for,  after  all,  the  quarrel  was  none 
of  his.  But  the  life  of  their  friendship  was  dead,  and  no 
other  letters  passed  between  them. 

The  long,  wet  drive  to  and  from  Stanstead  brought  back 
Keats's  sore  throat,  and  he  was  housed  for  practically  the 
whole  rest  of  his  visit;  but  he  liked  the  Snooks  and  seems  to 
have  enjoyed  talking  to  them. 

If  his  "fortnight"  is  to  be  taken  as  exact,  Keats  returned 
to  Wentworth  Place  on  February  sixth.  He  came  back  in 
miserable  health,  and  much  tormented  by  a  fresh  evidence 
of  Abbey's  desire  to  separate  him  still  farther  from  his 
sister.  Abbey  now  expressed  his  unwillingness  to  allow  the 
brother  and  sister  to  correspond.  This  hurt  Keats  very 
much,  as  did  Abbey's  manner  on  one  or  two  occasions 
when  he  went  to  see  him;  finally  Keats  took  the  bull  by 
the  horns  and  wrote  Abbey  a  letter  which  had  some  effect 
in  inducing  him  to  grant  the  brother  and  sister  a  little  more 
freedom  together. 

Keats's  state  of  mind  on  his  return  to  Hampstead  seems 
to  have  been  a  decidedly  complicated  one,  and  only  a  tithe 
of  his  perplexities  appears  in  his  letters.  His  scrupulous 
care  to  keep  everything  connected  with  Fanny  Brawne  and 
his  real  relation  to  her  from  his  brother's  knowledge,  leaves 
his  narration  of  events  —  psychological  events,  at  any 
rate  —  singularly  incomplete.  To  supplement  it,  we  have 


i8o  JOHN  KEATS 

the  evidence  of  the  poems  he  wrote  during  the  Spring,  and 
a  few  annotations  in  a  book  he  happened  to  be  reading  at 
the  time.  Buxton  Forman  imagines  that  Keats  announced 
his  engagement  to  his  brother  and  sister-in-law  in  a  letter 
which  has  been  lost;  I  see  no  reason  for  any  such  suppo- 
sition. On  the  contrary,  I  think  everything  we  can  judge 
by  points  to  the  fact  of  Keats  having  admitted  an  engage- 
ment only  after  seeing  George  on  the  latter's  return  to 
England  in  the  following  year,  when  it  would  be  almost  im- 
possible to  conceal  it  any  longer.  What  George  and  Georgi- 
ana  may  have  guessed  from  the  letters  of  others  of  the 
circle  is  another  thing.  I  feel  very  sure  that  Keats  took  as 
few  people  as  possible  into  his  confidence  at  any  time,  and 
then  only  when  the  circumstances  had  become  too  patent 
to  be  ignored. 

Whatever  Keats  did,  or  did  not,  say  to  his  friends  and 
his  brother  and  sister-in-law,  it  is  obvious  that  Fanny 
Brawne,  and  the  overwhelming  love  for  her  in  which  he 
found  himself  plunged,  filled  him  with  turmoil  and  all  the 
alternations  of  extreme  joy  and  fearful  distrust  which  we 
should  expect.  With  our  intimate  knowledge  of  his  tem- 
perament, we  need  not  be  astonished  to  find  him  turning 
even  his  happiness  into  an  exquisite  self-torture.  For  his 
moments  of  sheer  felicity  —  and  we  may  be  certain  that  he 
had  such  moments  to  excess  —  there  were  others  in  which 
his  imagination  conjured  up  a  thousand  puerile  infidelities 
and  laid  them  at  Fanny  Brawne's  door  to  the  consequent 
discomfort  of  both.  Let  us  admit,  once  and  for  all,  that 
Keats  must  have  been  a  very  uneasy  lover.  It  would  be 
small  wonder  if  Fanny  Brawne  occasionally  asked  herself 
whether  this  exacting  and  excitable  young  man  could 
make  any  woman  really  happy,  yet  that  seems  to  have 
been  a  question  which,  in  sober  earnest,  she  never  asked. 
She  made  her  choice  and  abided  by  it,  all  honour  to  her  for 
so  doing. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  the  outlook  from  a  commonsense 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  l8i 

standpoint  was  not  at  all  assuring.  Keats  had  no  idea  that 
he  was  already  a  victim  of  consumption,  but  he  did  know 
that  he  was  strangely  liable  to  sore  throats,  and  was  often 
on  the  sick  list  for  days  at  a  time.  On  his  return  to  Went- 
worth  Place,  he  took  himself  firmly  in  hand  and  shut  him- 
self up  in  the  house.  "  Since  I  came  back,"  he  wrote  to  his 
sister,  "I  have  been  taking  care  of  myself — I  have  been 
obliged  to  do  so,  and  am  now  in  hopes  that  by  this  care  I 
shall  get  rid  of  a  sore  throat  which  has  haunted  me  at  in- 
tervals nearly  a  twelvemonth."  A  long  engagement  is  one 
thing;  an  engagement  which  can  count  on  no  change  in 
circumstances  such  as  will  make  marriage  possible,  is  an- 
other. Mrs.  Brawne  had  a  little  money,  but  scarcely 
enough  for  her  to  contemplate  the  financing  of  a  second 
household;  Keats  had  made  large  inroads  into  his  princi- 
pal and  the  chancery  suit  left  his  hopes  for  the  future 
extremely  problematical.  He  had  no  settled  means  of 
support,  and  was  determined  at  all  costs  to  write  poetry 
come  what  would.  There  was  enough  in  all  this  to  cause 
anxiety. 

At  first,  after  he  got  home,  the  writing  fit  continued.  In  a 
journal  letter  to  George,  begun  on  February  fourteenth,1  he 
says:  "We  —  Brown  and  I  —  sit  opposite  one  another  all 
day  authorizing."  He  seems  to  have  been  engaged  in  tinker- 
ing on  the  Eve  of  St.  dgnes,  but  he  also  began  the  Eve  of  St. 
Mark.  Woodhouse,  who  states2  that  he  copied  the  poem 
from  Keats's  manuscript,  adds  that  it  was  written  "  13/17 
Feb.,  1819."  St.  Mark's  Eve  falls  on  April  twenty-fourth, 
so  that  the  day  itself  counted  for  nothing  in  Keats's  choice 
of  subject.  Probably  it  grew  out  of  the  already  partly  fin- 

1The  letter  is  dated  "Sunday  Morn,  Feby.  24th  1819,"  but  this  is 
clearly  an  error  made  either  by  Keats  himself  or  some  later  copyist.  The 
correct  date  is  undoubtedly  February  14th,  since  that  was  a  Sunday.  A 
continuation  of  the  letter  is  dated  "Friday  Feby  18"  which  is  probably 
right  as  to  the  day  of  the  week,  although  the  day  of  the  month  should  have 
been  given  as  the  nineteenth.  See  Appendix  D. 

2  Woodhouse  Commonplace  Book  (Poems  II).  Crewe  Collection. 


1 82  JOHN  KEATS 

ished  Eve  of  St.  Agnes.  Notwithstanding  that  he  had  one 
superb  poem  nearly  done,  and  another,  which  promised  to 
be  as  good,  fairly  on  the  stocks,  Keats  found  himself  unable 
to  go  on.  The  excitements  and  anxieties  which  beset  him 
proved  too  harassing  to  leave  him  in  the  proper  frame  of 
mind  for  writing  poetry.  He  tells  George: 

iuln  my  next  packet,  as  this  one  is  by  the  way,  I  shall 
send  you  my  Pot  of  Basil,  St.  Agnes'  eve,  and  if  I  should 
have  finished  it,  a  little  thing  called  the  eve  of  St.  Mark. 
You  see  what  fine  Mother  Radcliffe  names  I  have  —  it  is 
not  my  fault  —  I  did  not  search  for  them.  I  have  not  gone 
on  with  Hyperion,  for  to  tell  the  truth  I  have  not  been  in 
great  cue  for  writing  lately  —  I  must  wait  for  the  spring  to 
rouse  me  up  a  little. " 

As  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark,  although  begun  in  February,  was 
so  soon  abandoned  and  not  taken  up  again  until  Septem- 
ber, I  shall  wait  to  consider  it  until  the  Winchester  period. 
What  principally  troubled  Keats  was  undoubtedly  his 
adjustment  to  Fanny  Brawne.  With  Keats,  love  and 
jealousy  were  inseparable.  We  can  guess  at  the  state  of 
things  by  a  rather  pathetic  little  remark  in  a  letter  to  his 
sister  Fanny.  Speaking  of  the  Abbey's  garden  at  Waltham- 
stow,  he  says: 

"I  should  like  to  take  possession  of  those  Grassplots  for 
a  Month  or  so;  and  send  Mrs.  A.  to  Town  to  count  coffee 
berries  instead  of  currant  Bunches,  for  I  want  you  to  teach 
me  a  few  common  dancing  steps  —  and  I  would  buy  a 
Watch  box  to  practise  them  in  by  myself." 

Keats,  who  did  not  dance,  was  at  an  obvious  disadvan- 
tage at  a  dancing-party,  and  to  be  at  a  disadvantage  where 
Fanny  Brawne  was  concerned  must  have  galled  him  terri- 
bly. There  is  no  record  of  his  having  mastered  his  "danc- 
ing steps,"  but  there  is  a  record  of  the  way  conditions 
were  worrying  him,  and  this  record  is  from  a  most  unex- 

1  Corrected  from  original  letter. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  183 

pected  source  —  a  copy  of  Palmerin  of  England.1  We  have 
Hunt's  authority  for  the  fact  that  Keats  was  reading  Pal- 
merin at  this  time.  The  book  had  been  lent  him  by  Taylor 
and  he  liked  it  so  much  that  he  never  returned  it,  it  was 
found  among  his  books  after  he  died  and  given  back  to  its 
rightful  owner  by  Brown.  Now  in  this  book  there  are  a 
number  of  passages  underscored  by  Keats,  and  some  of 
these  underscorings  can  hardly  have  been  made  for  any 
purpose  other  than  the  personal  application  which  he 
found  in  the  passages  so  marked.  These  particular  annota- 
tions are  all  in  the  third  and  fourth  volumes  of  the  work, 
the  first  of  them  can  certainly  not  have  been  noticed  for  its 
excellence  as  poetry.  It  is: 

"Some  men  in  love  commend  their  happiness, 
their  quiet,  sweet,  and  delicate  delight; 
And  I  can  boast  of  fortune's  forwardness, 

her  extreme  rigour,  and  severe  despight. 
But  for  the  sweetness  other  men  have  felt, 
I  came  too  late,  my  part  was  elsewhere  dealt." 

The  next  passage  scored  is:  "it  is  the  nature  of  women  to 
desire  to  see  novelties,  and  go  pilgrimages."  Again,  Keats 
marks  a  passage  where  a  knight  overhears  another  boast- 
ing that  he  is  master  of  his  affections,  which  words  seemed 
to  the  listener  "to  come  from  one  who  was  at  liberty,  and 
to  whom  love  could  do  neither  good  nor  evil.  But  he  him- 
self desired  not  to  live  in  such  liberty."  The  following  is 
partly  double  scored;  "  I  do  not  hold  her  to  be  of  such  poor 
understanding  as  that  for  a  man  so  free  as  you  she  should 
be  willing  to  reject  a  will  so  devoted  as  mine."  That  Keats 
found  an  exact  analogy  to  his  own  case  in  these  next  lines, 
is  evident :  "And  as  men  whose  hearts  have  long  been  free, 
when  they  devote  them  at  last  are  more  devoted  than  such 
as  have  been  used  to  such  devotement,  so  it  was  with  this 
knight."  Here,  also,  it  must  have  been  himself  of  whom  he 

1  Owned  by  Mr.  Lucius  Wilmerding  of  New  York. 


184  JOHN  KEATS 

was  thinking  when  he  drew  his  pencil  under  the  last  half  of 
this  sentence:  "He  had  no  other  food  than  his  own  imagi- 
nations^ which  would  sooner  destroy  than  support  him."  Of 
vanity  in  women,  he  scores  this:  "so  strong  is  this  passion 
in  them  that  nothing  can  equal  it." 

Have  we  not,  in  these  marked  passages  of  Pa/merin,  as 
clear  an  account  of  Keats's  mental  state  during  February 
and  March  as  we  need  to  understand  why  he  could  not 
write,  why  he  saw  so  little  of  his  friends,  why  so  many  old 
interests  had  lost  their  savour? 

The  evidence  of  the  change  in  his  daily  habits  may  be 
seen  by  a  few  casual  remarks  in  the  beginning  of  his  letter 
to  George.  For  instance: 

"I  see  very  little  now,  and  very  few  persons,  being  al- 
most tired  of  men  and  things.  Brown  and  Dilke  are  very 
kind  and  considerate  towards  me.  The  Miss  R's  have  been 
stopping  next  door  lately,  but  are  very  dull.  Miss  Brawne 
and  I  have  every  now  and  then  a  chat  and  a  tiff ...  The 
literary  world  I  know  nothing  about .  .  .  Yesterday  I  went 
to  town  for  the  first  time  for  these  three  weeks.  I  met 
people  from  all  parts  and  of  all  sorts  ...  I  see  very  little  of 
Reynolds.  Hunt,  I  hear  is  going  on  very  badly  —  I  mean 
in  money  matters.  I  shall  not  be  surprised  to  hear  of  the 
worst.  Haydon  too,  in  consequence  of  his  eyes,  is  out  at 
elbows.  I  live  as  prudently  as  it  is  possible  for  me  to  do.  I 
have  not  seen  Haslam  lately.  I  have  not  seen  Richards  for 
this  half  year,  Rice  for  three  months,  or  Charles  Cowden 
Clarke  for  God  knows  when." 

Keats  gives  a  homely  little  thumbnail  sketch  of  subur- 
ban gossip  in  the  London  stage.  He  tells  the  story  half- 
humorously,  half-ruefully,  and  since  the  anecdote  serves 
to  throw  another  sidelight  on  the  main  picture,  I  think  it 
worth  repeating  as  Keats  told  it: 

11  Mr.  Lewis  went  a  few  mornings  ago  to  town  with  Mrs. 
Brawne.  They  talked  about  me,  and  I  heard  that  Mr.  L. 
said  a  thing  that  I  am  not  at  all  contented  with.  Says  he, 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  185 

'O,  he  is  quite  the  little  poet/  Now  this  is  abominable. 
You  might  as  well  say  that  Buonaparte  is  quite  the  little 
soldier.  You  see  what  it  is  to  be  under  six  foot  and  not  a 
lord.'1 

In  spite  of  the  general  dislocation  of  his  life  at  the  mo- 
ment, Keats  was  manfully  trying  to  keep  his  head  to  the 
wind.  His  second  instalment  of  the  long  letter  to  George 
contains  the  following: 

"  I  have  not  said  in  any  Letter  a  word  about  my  own 
affairs  —  in  a  word  I  am  in  no  despair  about  them  —  my 
poem  has  not  at  all  succeeded ;  in  the  course  of  a  year  or  so 
I  think  I  shall  try  the  public  again  —  in  a  selfish  point  of 
view  I  should  suffer  my  pride  and  my  contempt  of  public 
opinion  to  hold  me  silent  —  but  for  yours  and  Fanny's  sake 
I  will  pluck  up  a  spirit  and  try  again.  I  have  no  doubt  of 
success  in  a  course  of  years  if  I  persevere  —  but  it  must  be 
patience  —  for  the  Reviews  have  enervated  and  made 
indolent  men's  minds  —  few  think  for  themselves.  These 
Reviews  too  are  getting  more  and  more  powerful,  especially 
the  Quarterly  —  they  are  like  a  superstition  which  the 
more  it  prostrates  the  Crowd  and  the  longer  it  continues 
the  more  powerful  it  becomes  just  in  proportion  to  their 
increasing  weakness.  I  was  in  hopes  that  when  people  saw, 
as  they  must  do  now,  all  the  trickery  and  iniquity  of  these 
Plagues  they  would  scout  them,  but  no,  they  are  like  the 
spectators  at  the  Westminister  cock-pit  —  they  like  the 
battle  —  and  do  not  care  who  wins  or  loses." 

Keats's  attitude  was  both  plucky  and  shrewd,  and  he 
was  fortunate  in  having  publishers  who  backed  him  up  at 
every  point.  Taylor  &  Hessey 's  loyalty,  kept  at  the  boiling 
point  by  Woodhouse's  enthusiasm,  is  one  of  the  bright 
spots  in  Keats's  life.  A  long  undated  letter  from  Wood- 
house,  apparently  to  his  cousin,  Miss  Frogley,  and  evi- 
dently written  shortly  after  the  episode  of  Miss  Porter  and 
Endymion,  shows  Woodhouse's  loyalty  and  wisdom  in  such 
a  clear  light,  reveals  indeed  so  much  of  the  fine  feeling  and 


186  JOHN  KEATS 

understanding  which  certain  of  Keats's  admirers  had  for 
his  work  that,  notwithstanding  its  length,  I  shall  give 
some  parts  .of  it  here. 

l"  MY  DEAR  MARY. 

I  returned  from  Hounslow  late  last  night ...  I  brought 
Endymion  back,  thinking  you  might  like  to  have  it  in 
Town  whilst  with  your  friends. 

You  were  so  flattering  as  to  say  the  other  day,  you 
wished  I  had  been  in  a  company  where  you  were,  to  defend 
Keats.  —  In  all  places,  and  at  all  times,  and  before  all 
persons,  I  would  express  and  so  far  as  I  am  able,  support, 
my  high  opinion  of  his  poetical  merits  —  such  a  genius,  I 
verily  believe,  has  not  appeared  since  Shakespeare  and 
Milton:  and  I  may  assert  without  fear  of  contradiction 
from  any  one  competent  to  Judge,  that  if  his  Endymion  be 
compared  with  Shakespeare's  earliest  work  (his  Venus  and 
Adonis)  written  about  the  same  age,  Keats's  poem  will  be 
found  to  contain  more  beauties,  more  poetry  (and  that  of  a 
higher  order)  less  conceit  and  bad  taste  and  in  a  word  much 
more  promise  of  excellence  than  are  to  be  found  in  Shake- 
speare's work.  This  is  a  deliberate  opinion,  nor  is  it  merely 
my  own  . .  . 

But  in  our  common  conversation  upon  his  merits,  we 
should  always  bear  in  mind  that  his  fame  may  be  more 
hurt  by  indiscriminate  praise  than  by  wholesale  censure. 
I  would  at  once  admit  that  he  has  great  faults  —  enough 
indeed  to  sink  another  writer.  But  they  are  more  than 
counterbalanced  by  his  beauties:  and  this  is  the  proper 
mode  of  appreciating  an  original  genius.  His  faults  will 
wear  away  —  his  fire  will  be  chastened  —  and  then  eyes 
will  do  homage  to  his  brilliancy.  But  genius  is  wayward, 
trembling,  easily  daunted.  And  shall  we  not  excuse  the 
errors,  the  luxuriancy  of  youth?  Are  we  to  expect  that 
poets  are  to  be  given  to  the  world,  as  our  first  parents 
were,  in  a  state  of  maturity?  Are  they  to  have  no  season  of 
childhood?  are  they  to  have  no  room  to  try  their  wings  be- 

1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Library.  This  original  draft  is  badly 
torn.  The  version  in  the  text  has  been  corrected  from  a  copy  of  the  original 
letter  published  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  in  the  Times  Literary  Supplement. 
April  1 6,  1914. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  187 

fore  the  steadiness  and  strength  of  their  flight  are  to  be 
finally  judged  of?...  Had  I  any  literary  reputation  I 
would  stake  it  on  the  result.  You  know  the  side  I  should 
espouse.  As  it  is,  —  I  can  only  prophesy.  And  now,  while 
Keats  is  unknown,  unheeded,  despised  of  one  of  our  arch- 
critics,  neglected  by  the  rest  —  in  the  teeth  of  the  world, 
and  in  the  face  of  'these  curious  days/  I  express  my 
conviction,  that  Keats,  during  his  life  (if  it  please  God  to 
spare  him  to  the  usual  age  of  man,  and  the  critics  not  to 
drive  him  from  the  free  air  of  the  Poetic  heaven  before  his 
Wings  are  fully  fledged)  will  rank  on  a  level  with  the  best 
of  the  last  or  of  the  present  generation:  and  after  his  death 
will  take  his  place  at  their  head.  But,  while  I  think  thus, 
I  would  make  persons  respect  my  judgement  by  the  dis- 
crimination of  my  praise,  and  by  the  freedom  of  my  cen- 
sure where  his  writings  are  open  to  it.  These  are  the  Ele- 
ments of  true  criticism.  It  is  easy,  like  Momus,  to  find  fault 
with  the  clattering  of  the  slipper  worn  by  the  Goddess  of 
beauty ;  but  '  the  serious  Gods '  found  better  employment 
in  admiration  of  her  unapproachable  loveliness.  A  Poet 
ought  to  write  for  Posterity.  But  a  critic  should  do  so,  too. 
Those  of  our  times  write  for  the  day,  or  rather  the  hour. 
Their  thoughts  and  Judgements  are  fashionable  garbs,  such 
as  they  imagine  a  skew-wise  world  would  like  to  array  it- 
self in  at  second  hand .  .  .  Adieu,  my  dear  Mary  .  .  . 

I  am  as  ever  yours, 

RICHARD  WOODHOUSE." 

That  letter  makes  one  forgive  Woodhouse's  occasional 
ineptitudes.  His  heart  was  always  in  the  right  place,  and 
if  he  ever  guessed  that  his  meticulous  inquiries  into  the 
meaning  and  method  of  Keats's  work  sometimes  brought 
on  himself  a  little  bored  spoofing,  he  had  the  wit  and  the 
kindness  to  ignore  the  fact.  A  few  months  later,  we  find 
Keats  asking  Dilke  if  he  knows  Woodhouse,  and  explain- 
ing: "He  is  a  Friend  of  Taylor's  at  whom  Brown  has  taken 
one  of  his  funny  odd  dislikes.  I'm  sure  he's  wrong,  because 
Woodhouse  likes  my  Poetry  —  conclusive."  We  have  al- 
ready seen  Woodhouse  scheming  to  enlarge  Keats's  hori- 


1 88  JOHN  KEATS 

zon,  to  lift  him  out  of  his  rut.  Now  suddenly  either  he  or 
Taylor  conceived  the  idea  that  it  would  do  Keats  good  to 
stay  with  Taylor  for  a  few  days,  and  take  in  a  theatre  or 
two.  Taylor  was  now  living  at  93  New  Bond  Street,  and 
Keats  was  persuaded  to  pass  "two  or  three  days"  with 
him  during  the  last  week  of  February,  getting  back  to 
Hampstead  on  Friday,  February  twenty-sixth. 

Sir  Sidney  Colvin  believes  that  the  Bright  Star  sonnet 
was  written  on  this  visit.  I  freely  admit  that  it  may  have 
been,  but  I  am  inclined,  for  reasons  which  I  shall  give  pres- 
ently, to  attribute  it  to  mid-April.  Sir  Sidney  has  recently 
discovered  a  transcript  of  the  sonnet  made  by  Brown  and 
dated  "1819."  There  was  a  snow  flurry  on  the  afternoon 
of  Wednesday,  February  twenty-fourth,  and  another  on 
the  following  morning,  and  for  this  reason  —  since  Keats 
speaks  of 

14 .  .  .  the  new  soft  fallen  mask 
Of  snow  " 

in  the  poem  —  Sir  Sidney  attributes  it  to  this  time.  It  is 
dangerous  reasoning  to  date  a  poem  by  its  images.  A  poet 
may  be  writing  under  the  circumstances  which  he  depicts 
in  his  poem,  or,  quite  as  possibly,  the  exact  opposite  may 
be  true.  Many  things  have  to  be  taken  into  consideration 
when  a  question  of  date  is  involved.  Being  fairly  certain 
that  mid-April  is  the  more  likely  moment  for  the  poem  to 
have  been  written,  I  shall  not  discuss  it  until  we  arrive  at 
Keats's  doings  for  April.  Then  my  readers  can  weigh  my 
arguments  against  Sir  Sidney's  and  draw  their  own  con- 
clusions. 

At  the  beginning  of  March,  we  find  Keats  writing  to 
Haydon: 

"You  must  be  wondering  where  I  am  and  what  I  am 
about!  I  am  mostly  at  Hampstead  and  about  nothing; 
being  in  a  sort  of  qui  bono  temper,  not  exactly  on  the  road 
to  an  epic  poem.  Nor  must  you  think  I  have  forgotten  you. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  189 

No,  I  have  about  every  three  days  been  to  Abbey's  and  to 
the  Law[y]ers." 

We  know  for  what  purpose  these  visits  were  made,  as 
Haydon's  business  had  not  yet  been  settled.  Keats  was  in 
a  distinctly  disgusted  mood  when  he  wrote  this  letter,  and 
he  takes  no  pains  to  hide  his  spleen.  "What  a  set  of  little 
people  we  live  amongst!"  he  exclaims,  and  goes  on: 

"  Conversation  is  not  a  thirst  after  knowledge,  but  an 
endeavour  at  effect. 

In  this  respect  two  most  opposite  men,  Wordsworth  and 
Hunt,  are  the  same.  A  friend  of  mine  observed  the  other 
day  that  if  Lord  Bacon  were  to  make  any  remark  in  a  party 
of  the  present  day,  the  conversation  would  stop  on  the 
sudden.  I  am  convinced  of  this,  and  from  this  I  have  come 
to  this  resolution  —  never  to  write  for  the  sake  of  writing 
or  making  a  poem,  but  from  running  over  with  any  little 
knowledge  or  experience  which  many  years  of  reflection 
may  perhaps  give  me;  otherwise  I  will  be  dumb  .  .  . 

With  respect  to  my  livelihood,  I  will  not  write  for  it,  — 
for  I  will  not  run  with  that  most  vulgar  of  all  crowds,  the 
literary.  Such  things  I  ratify  by  looking  upon  myself,  and 
trying  myself  by  lifting  mental  weights,  as  it  were.  I  am 
three  and  twenty,  with  little  knowledge  and  middling 
intellect.  It  is  true  that  in  the  height  of  enthusiasm  I  have 
been  cheated  into  some  fine  passages;  but  that  is  not  the 
thing/1 

It  is  not  the  thing,  most  assuredly;  and  Keats  owes  it  to 
his  excellent  critical  faculty  to  have  discovered  this  im- 
portant artistic  truth  so  early.  But  if  he  were  not  going  to 
write  for  his  living,  what  was  he  going  to  do  for  it,  since  his 
interviews  with  Abbey  had  shown  him  pretty  clearly  that 
what  money  he  had  left  would  keep  him  no  long  time  un- 
less he  found  some  way  of  augmenting  it?  Looking  his 
prospects  fairly  in  the  face,  he  even  considered  the  advisa- 
bility of  going  to  Edinburgh  and  studying  for  a  physician's 
certificate,  but,  he  tells  George,  "  I  am  afraid  I  should  not 


190  JOHN  KEATS 

take  kindly  to  it;  I  am  sure  I  could  not  take  fees  —  and  yet 
I  should  like  to  do  so;  it's  not  worse  than  writing  poems, 
and  hanging  them  up  to  be  fly-blown  on  the  Review  sham- 
bles." 

It  may  seem  odd  that  Keats,  who  had  an  apothecary's 
diploma,  never  appears  to  have  considered  practising  his 
profession.  But  there  were  several  reasons  which  may  well 
have  made  this  the  last  thing  that  he  wanted  to  do.  It 
was  not  so  long  since  Abbey  had  wished  him  to  buy  a  prac- 
tice as  surgeon  and  apothecary  in  one  of  the  London  sub- 
urbs; but  two  years  is  two  years,  and  his  small  capital 
could  no  longer  provide  him  with  means  for  this.  If  he 
started  in  practice,  it  must  be  as  some  one's  assistant,  and 
he  knew  himself  well  enough  to  realize  that  that  would 
never  work.  Also,  the  people  with  whom  he  was  now  living 
were  socially  rather  above  an  apothecary's  standard. 
Keats  hated  the  idea  of  a  shop,  and  physicians  did  not  have 
shops.  Where  the  money  for  his  tuition  in  Edinburgh  was 
to  come  from  does  not  seem  to  have  entered  into  his  cal- 
culations. The  fact  is,  he  did  not  want  to  be  a  physician, 
he  did  not  want  to  do  anything  but  write  poetry,  and  in 
the  end  he  let  the  whole  thing  slide,  optimistically  persuad- 
ing himself  that  things  could  not  be  as  bad  as  Abbey  said. 
We  must  not  blame  him  too  much  for  this  inertia,  nor  shall 
we,  if  we  keep  firmly  in  mind  two  things:  one,  his  health; 
the  other,  that  he  had  an  irresistible  bent  in  one  direction, 
a  bent  so  strong  that  nothing  on  earth  could  turn  him  from 
it.  If  ever  a  man  was  born  to  write  poetry,  Keats  was  that 
man.  A  little  poet,  like  Reynolds,  could  abandon  literature 
for  the  law  when  it  became  a  question  of  marrying  or  not;  a 
great  poet,  like  Keats,  must,  by  the  very  necessity  of  his 
being,  function  as  nature  intended,  even  his  love,  profound 
and  permeating  though  it  were,  could  not  stand  against 
the  natural  impulse  of  his  whole  nature.  Fanny  Brawne 
seems  to  have  understood  this,  and  there  is  no  evidence 
that  she  ever  urged  him  to  take  up  a  practical  profession, 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  191 

as  Miss  Drew  urged  Reynolds.  This  attitude  of  Fanny 
Brawne's  is  one  of  the  noblest  things  we  know  about  her. 

That  Keats  was  utterly  worn  out  with  his  sensations  at 
this  time,  it  takes  no  great  amount  of  perspicacity  to  see. 
We  must  not  forget  that  the  agony  of  the  Autumn  was 
bound  to  take  its  toll  sooner  or  later.  No  man  could  run 
the  gamut  of  so  many  emotions  as  Keats  had  endured  dur- 
ing the  last  six  months  without  having  it  tell  on  his  ener- 
gies. This  has  been  so  little  understood  that  it  has  been  the 
habit  of  critics  and  biographers  to  attribute  his  inability  to 
write  from  mid-February  to  mid-March  to  the  baleful  in- 
fluence of  Fanny  Brawne,  instead  of  understanding  at  once 
that  it  was  simply  imperative  for  him  to  lie  fallow  and 
store  up  what  health  and  vitality  he  had  until  his  reser- 
voir of  creative  force  was  once  more  full  enough  to  draw 
upon. 

A  little  extra  strain  was  sufficient  to  throw  him  into  a 
state  of  numbness,  a  sort  of  weary  trance  in  which,  being 
himself,  his  imagination  visited  him  with  dreams,  but 
dreams  cool,  temperate,  pricking  him  to  no  answering 
emotion.  This  is  the  meaning  of  a  passage  in  the  letter  to 
George  which  has  been  almost  universally  misconstrued. 
It  was  written  on  Friday,  the  nineteenth  of  March: 

"This  morning  I  am  in  a  sort  of  temper,  indolent  and 
supremely  careless  —  I  long  after  a  stanza  or  two  of 
Thompson's  Castle  of  Indolence  —  my  passions  are  all 
asleep,  from  my  having  slumbered  till  nearly  eleven,  and 
weakened  the  animal  fibre  all  over  me,  to  a  delightful 
sensation,  about  three  degrees  on  this  side  of  faintness.  If 
I  had  teeth  of  pearl  and  the  breath  of  lilies  I  should  call  it 
languor,  but  as  I  am  I  must  call  it  laziness.  In  this  state  of 
effeminacy  the  fibres  of  the  brain  are  relaxed  in  common 
with  the  rest  of  the  body,  and  to  such  a  happy  degree  that 
pleasure  has  no  show  of  enticement  and  pain  no  unbearable 
power.  Neither  Poetry,  nor  Ambition,  nor  Love  have  any 
alertness  of  countenance  as  they  pass  by  me;  they  seem 
rather  like  figures  on  a  Greek  vase  —  a  Man  and  two 


192  JOHN  KEATS 

women  whom  no  one  but  myself  could  distinguish  in  their 
disguisement." 

At  the  words  "as  I  am,"  Keats  put  an  asterisk,  and  at 
the  bottom  of  the  page  wrote  "Especially  as  I  have  a  black 
eye."  And  thereby  hangs  a  tale. 

It  has  hitherto  been  supposed  that  this  black  eye  refers 
to  the  fight  with  the  butcher  who  was  tormenting  the 
kitten.1  But  a  perfectly  fresh  light  has  been  thrown  upon 
the  matter  by  the  discovery  of  what  seems  to  have  been 
intended  as  a  part  of  this  letter.  It  has  come  into  my 
possession  too  late  to  permit  of  its  being  incorporated  in 
the  text,  but  will  be  found  elsewhere.2  Through  it,  we 
learn  that  the  immediate  cause  of  the  black  eye  was  a 
cricket  ball.  Keats  seems  to  have  been  trying  to  dispel 
his  fatigue  by  some  strenuous  and  unwonted  exercise,  and 
the  blow  from  the  ball  was  a  serious  matter  to  his  over- 
taxed strength.  Keats  was  neither  lazy  nor  sybaritic  in 
sleeping  until  eleven  and  waking  in  the  listless  mood  he 
describes.  He  was  utterly  played  out.  We  must  remember 
that  he  was  not  only  entirely  out  of  training,  he  was  really 
a  sick  man.  Gloriously  and  stubbornly  as  his  magnificent 
constitution  refused  to  be  downed  by  the  tuberculosis 
which  was  slowly,  but  steadily,  tightening  its  hold,  never- 
theless he  was  in  no  condition  to  stand  a  shock  of  any 
kind.  Only  a  short  month  before,  he  had  shrunk  from 
walking  up  the  hill  to  call  on  Mr.  Lewis.  It  was  extremely 
foolish  to  attempt  even  the  mildest  and  most  short-handed 
cricket,  and  the  effort  told.  Instead  of  reading  into  his  de- 
scription of  this  morning's  relaxation  a  sign  of  sensuous 
indulgence,  we  should  realize  that  in  it  we  have  a  clear  evi- 
dence of  an  indomitable  will  triumphing  over  a  serious 
state  of  debility  and  disease.  If  only  Keats 's  friends  had 
understood,  if  only  the  sheer  grit  with  which  he  kept  him- 
self going  could  have  met  with  a  little  sensible  medical 
help,  if  only  —  for  this  is  what  it  amounts  to  —  Keats  had 
1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  257.  •  See  Appendix  D. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  193 

lived  a  century  later  than  he  did.  But  these  are  dreams. 
Keats  lived,  and  alas!  died,  a  victim  of  his  age,  and  in 
some  sense,  too,  a  victim  of  his  own  courage  and  innate 
vitality. 

Keats's  vitality,  that  spark  in  him  which  made  him  the 
vivid  creature  he  was,  deceived  his  friends  as  to  his  actual 
situation  until  his  first  haemorrhage  forced  it  unescapably 
upon  them.  Even  after  that,  the  doctors  refused  to  take 
alarm  as  they  should  have  done.  At  this  period,  a  few  days 
after  the  episode  of  the  cricket  ball,  Clarke  went  out  to 
Wentworth  Place  to  see  him,  on  which  occasion  Keats  read 
to  him  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes.  Clarke  found  him  "in  fine 
health  and  spirits,"  l  which  only  proves  how  little  a  casual 
visitor  could  tell  his  real  condition  when,  for  any  reason, 
his  mind  was  actively  engaged  and  happy.  Immediately 
after  this,  Clarke  left  London  to  go  and  live  with  his  father, 
now  settled  at  Ramsgate,  and  the  two  friends  never  met 
again. 

I  do  not  wish  to  give  the  impression  that  Keats's  illness 
was  a  steady  progression  which  his  friends  could  see  ad- 
vancing from  day  to  day.  Taken  by  terms  of  months,  un- 
doubtedly an  observant  onlooker  could  have  noticed  a 
steady  decline;  but  there  were  periods  of  apparent  resili- 
ence when  for  weeks  at  a  time  Keats  gave  an  impression  of 
recovered  health,  and  his  moods  of  mental  depression  were 
made  responsible,  in  his  friends'  ignorant  opinion,  for  much 
more  of  his  evident  low  spirits  than  they  could  properly 
bear.  Difficult  as  his  life  was  during  the  remainder  of  the 
year,  it  is  time  that  students  realized  how  great  a  part  of 
his  despondence  was  due  solely  to  disease.  The  wonder  is 
that  both  physically  and  mentally  he  held  his  own  so  long. 

Meanwhile  we  see  him,  not  writing  indeed  as  yet,  but 
forcing  himself  back  into  his  usual  interests.  He  quotes  at 
great  length  Hazlitt's  Letter  to  William  Gifford  for  George's 
benefit.  He  sends  a  volume  of  Goldsmith  to  Fanny,  and 

1  See  Appendix  D. 


194  JOHN  KEATS 

writes  to  her  about  Tassie's  gems.1  On  March  thirteenth, 
he  tells  her,  charmingly: 

"I  must  confess  even  now  a  partiality  for  a  handsome 
Globe  of  gold-fish  —  then  I  would  have  it  hold  10  pails  of 
water  and  be  fed  continually  fresh  through  a  cool  pipe  with 
another  pipe  to  let  through  the  floor  —  well  ventilated 
they  would  preserve  all  their  beautiful  silver  and  Crimson. 
Then  I  would  put  it  before  a  handsome  painted  window 
and  shade  it  all  round  with  myrtles  and  Japonicas.  I 
should  like  the  window  to  open  onto  the  Lake  of  Geneva 
—  and  there  I'd  sit  and  read  all  day  like  the  picture  of 
somebody  reading.  The  weather  now  and  then  begins  to 
feel  like  spring;  and  therefore  I  have  begun  my  walks  on 
the  heath  again." 

As  these  walks  seem  to  have  been  principally  taken  with 
Fanny  Brawne,  the  mere  mention  of  them  is  significant. 

Toward  the  end  of  March  (Buxton  Forman  thinks  that 
Keats's  letter,  which  is  simply  dated,  "Monday — afl," 
was  written  on  the  twenty-ninth)  Severn  proposed  that  he 
put  into  the  Royal  Academy  exhibition,  along  with  his  pic- 
ture of  Hermia  and  Helena,  a  miniature  which  he  had 
painted  of  Keats.  We  have  no  exact  knowledge  of  when 
this  miniature  was  done,  since  Sharp,2  in  attributing  it  to 
the  Winter  of  1819,  is  clearly  in  error,  as  he  says  that  the 
miniature  was  much  liked  by  Keats's  brothers,  and  by 
1819  one  of  his  brothers  was  dead,  and  the  other  in  Amer- 
ica. The  most  likely  time  for  it  to  have  been  painted  was,  I 
think,  the  Winter  of  1818,  although  it  may  have  been  done 
even  earlier.  Severn  painted  all  three  of  the  Keats  bro- 
thers, and  it  is  not  improbable  that  he  did  them  all  about 
the  same  time,  during  1817  and  the  early  part  of  1818. 

Keats's  reply  to  Severn's  suggestion  shows  admirable 
good  sense  and  modesty.  In  the  first  instance,  he  warns 
Severn  that  a  miniature  is  lost  in  a  great  exhibition;  in  the. 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  490. 

2  Life  and  Letters  of  Joseph  Severn,  by  William  Sharp. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  195 

second,  he  tells  Severn  plainly  that  to  exhibit  it  may  hurt 
them  both,  considering  their  ages  and  lack  of  fame,  and 
that  people  would  be  apt  to  "laugh  at  the  puff  of  the  one 
and  the  vanity  of  the  other."  However,  in  the  end  he  left 
Severn  a  free  hand,  and  Severn,  nothing  daunted,  added 
the  miniature  to  his  large  picture  as  his  contribution  for 
the  year.  The  two  paintings  were  hung  at  the  Royal  Acad- 
emy exhibition  for  1819;  the  Hermia  and  Helena  appearing 
in  the  catalogue  as  Number  267,  and  the  miniature  as 
Number  940. 

In  these  long  journal  letters  to  George,  Keats  frequently 
breaks  off  and  begins  again  without  making  any  change  of 
date.  Was  it  on  the  weary  Friday  that  he  continued  his 
letter  with  certain  very  interesting  reflections,  or  does  this 
contribution  mean  a  lapse  of  twenty-four  hours  or  more? 
Arguments  in  favour  of  either  supposition  could  easily  be 
found,  but  because  of  the  last  sentence  of  this  section  of 
the  letter,  I  am  inclined  to  believe  that  the  latter  half  of  it 
was  written  a  day  later  than  the  former.  There  is  a  slight 
change  of  mood  at  this  point,  the  not  unpleasant  languor 
has  given  place  to  a  more  energetic  feeling;  once  more 
he  has  begun  to  think  and  reason.  His  new,  although 
related,  train  of  thought,  is  induced  by  the  fact  that  he 
has  just  heard  from  Haslam  that  his  father  is  dying. 
Keats  says: 

"This  is  the  world  —  thus  we  cannot  expect  to  give 
away  many  hours  to  pleasure.  Circumstances  are  like 
Clouds  continually  gathering  and  bursting.  While  we  are 
laughing,  the  seed  of  some  trouble  is  put  into  the  wide 
arable  land  of  events  —  while  we  are  laughing  it  sprouts, 
it  grows,  and  suddenly  bears  a  poison  fruit  which  we  must 
pluck.  Even  so  we  have  leisure  to  reason  on  the  mis- 
fortunes of  our  friends;  our  own  touch  us  too  nearly  for 
words.  Very  few  men  have  ever  arrived  at  a  complete  dis- 
interestedness of  Mind:  very  few  have  been  influenced  by 
a  pure  desire  of  the  benefit  of  others,  —  in  the  greater  part 
of  the  Benefactors  of  Humanity  some  meretricious  motive 


196  JOHN  KEATS 

has  sullied  their  greatness  —  some  melodramatic  scenery 
has  fascinated  them.  From  the  manner  in  which  I  feel 
Haslam's  misfortune  I  perceive  how  far  I  am  from  any 
humble  standard  of  disinterestedness." 

Keats  was  a  man  who  dared  look  into  himself,  and  few 
men  have  sought  to  do  this  so  honestly.  The  realization  of 
the  imperfection  of  his  sympathy  leads  him  on  to  the 
thought  of  the  universe  of  creatures  all  pursuing  their  own 
ends,  and  man  among  them  equally  intent  upon  his.  From 
a  rather  confused  train  of  reasoning,  which  seems  intended 
to  prove  a  thesis  at  which  he  never  quite  arrives,  he  sud- 
denly breaks  off  to  state  the  exact  opposite  of  his  original 
premise,  but  this  statement  is,  in  itself,  a  most  important 
thing,  particularly  when  we  remember  his  constantly 
growing  repugnance  to  the  formulae  of  religious  teaching. 
Here  is  what  he  says: 

"  I  have  no  doubt  that  thousands  of  people  never  heard 
of  have  had  hearts  completely  disinterested:  I  can  re- 
member but  two  —  Socrates  and  Jesus  —  Their  histories 
evince  it.  What  I  heard  a  little  time  ago,  Taylor  observe 
with  respect  to  Socrates,  may  be  said  of  Jesus  —  That  he 
was  so  great  a  man  that  though  he  transmitted  no  writing 
of  his  own  to  posterity,  we  have  his  Mind  and  his  sayings 
and  his  greatness  handed  to  us  by  others.  It  is  to  be  la- 
mented that  the  history  of  the  latter  was  written  and  re- 
vised by  Men  interested  in  the  pious  frauds  of  Religion. 
Yet  through  all  this  I  see  his  splendour." 

Nothing  could  explain  Keats's  attitude  toward  the 
fundamental  nobility  of  spiritual  apprehensions  better 
than  that  passage;  nor  his  full  realization  of  his  own  inabil- 
ity to  plumb  his  glimmering  perceptions  to  an  ultimate  end 
than  this  one  which  immediately  follows: 

"Even  here,  though  I  myself  am  pursuing  the  same 
instinctive  course  as  the  veriest  human  animal  you  can 
think  of,  I  am,  however  young,  writing  at  random,  strain- 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  197 

ing  at  particles  of  light  in  the  midst  of  a  great  darkness, 
without  knowing  the  bearing  of  any  one  assertion,  of  any 
one  opinion." 

There  is  more  here  that  I  should  like  to  quote,  but  space 
forbids.  The  passage  ends  with  a  bit  of  self-revelation  and 
a  profound  truth: 

"Do  you  not  think  that  I  strive  —  to  know  myself ? 
Give  me  this  credit .  .  .  Nothing  ever  becomes  real  till  it 
is  experienced  —  even  a  Proverb  is  no  proverb  to  you  till 
your  Life  has  illustrated  it." 

This  does  not  seem  to  be  the  mood  of  Friday  morning. 
No,  I  take  it  to  be  the  mood  of  Saturday.  But  here,  sud- 
denly, Keats  copies  a  poem.  Only  the  week  before,  he  had 
remarked  to  George: 

"  I  know  not  why  Poetry  and  I  have  been  so  distant 
lately  —  I  must  make  some  advances  soon  or  she  will  cut 
me  entirely." 

Now  a  poem  has  come,  but  under  what  circumstances?  I 
think  the  slow  recovery  from  the  languid  mood  was  re- 
sponsible. For  this  sonnet  distinctly  circles  round  the  vi- 
sion of  his  waking  dream,  but  with  an  ardour  which  the 
dream  itself  lacked.  As  his  languor  lessened,  his  pain  re- 
turned, bringing  with  it  a  regret  which  gave  to  the  perpet- 
ual numbness  of  death  a  strange  desirability.  Yet,  lest 
George  should  read  a  greater  distress  into  the  poem  than 
he  purposes  to  convey,  he  prefaces  it  with  an  explanation. 
For  George,  knowing  him  to  be  without  his  erstwhile  con- 
fidants, Tom  and  himself,  will  assuredly  picture  him  as 
stifling  his  feelings  within  himself.  He  essays  to  reassure 
him,  and  the  reassurance  itself  harks  back  to  his  previous 
meditations,  which  in  turn  seem  to  have  sprung  from  the 
sonnet: 

"  I  am  ever  afraid  that  your  anxiety  for  me  will  lead  you 


198  JOHN  KEATS 

to  fear  for  the  violence  of  my  temperament  continually 
smothered  down:  for  that  reason  I  did  not  intend  to  have 
sent  you  the  following  sonnet  —  but  look  over  the  two  last 
pages  and  ask  yourselves  whether  I  have  not  that  in  me 
which  will  bear  the  buffets  of  the  world.  It  will  be  the  best 
comment  on  my  sonnet;  it  will  show  that  it  was  written 
with  no  Agony  but  that  of  ignorance;  with  no  thirst  of  any- 
thing but  Knowledge  when  pushed  to  the  point  though  the 
first  steps  to  it  were  through  my  human  passions  —  they 
went  away  and  I  wrote  with  my  Mind  —  and  perhaps  I 
must  confess  a  little  bit  of  my  heart." 

Since  this  sonnet  is  not  particularly  well  known,  and 
is  so  pertinent  to  his  mental  state  —  his  effort  to  fit  the 
experience  of  love  into  some  sort  of  pattern  with  his 
continual  blind  belief  in  a  beauty  and  truth  to  which 
everything  in  his  nature  clung,  together  with  the  weari- 
ness which  this  constant  effort  caused  him  —  I  will  quote 
it  here. 

"Why  did  I  laugh  to-night?  No  voice  will  tell : 

No  God,  no  Demon  of  severe  response 
Deigns  to  reply  from  heaven  or  from  Hell.  — 

Then  to  my  human  heart  I  turn  at  once  — 
Heart!  thou  and  I  are  here  sad  and  alone; 

Say,  wherefore  did  I  laugh?  O  mortal  pain! 
O  Darkness!  Darkness!  ever  must  I  moan 

To  question  Heaven  and  Hell  and  Heart  in  vain ! 
Why  did  I  laugh?   I  know  this  being's  lease 

My  fancy  to  its  utmost  blisses  spreads: 
Yet  would  I  on  this  very  midnight  cease 

And  the  world's  gaudy  ensigns  see  in  shreds. 
Verse,  Fame  and  Beauty  are  intense  indeed 
But  Death  intenser  —  Death  is  Life's  high  meed."  l 

Having  copied  the  poem,  he  continues: 

1  There  are  two  slight  differences  in  this  letter  version  of  the  sonnet  to 
that  given  by  Lord  Houghton  in  his  1848  edition.  I  have  kept  to  the  letter 
version  in  one  instance,  but  adopted  Lord  Houghton 's  version  in  the  other. 
Again,  Lord  Houghton 's  capitalization  and  punctuation  differ  from  the 
letter  holograph,  and  again  I  have,  with  one  exception,  followed  Keats. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  199 

11 1  went  to  bed  and  enjoyed  uninterrupted  sleep.  Sane 
I  went  to  bed  and  sane  I  arose." 

I  think  we  may  believe  every  word  that  he  says  in  this 
connection,  and  exactly  as  he  says  it.  Although  his  mind 
had  partially  recovered  from  the  inertia  of  the  morning,  he 
had  still  too  little  energy  to  suffer  as  was  his  wont.  He 
could  recollect  the  agony  of  his  perpetual  questioning,  but 
was  too  tired  to  be  wrung  afresh.  A  subtle  distinction  of 
sensations,  yet  one  of  absolute  fact;  the  respite  of  fatigue, 
to  which  he  gladly  surrendered  and  so  fell  asleep. 

From  this  point,  there  occurs  the  gap  of  a  month  in  his 
correspondence,  broken  only  by  the  letter  about  the  minia- 
ture to  Severn.  I  will  fill  it  by  putting,  quite  out  of  order, 
a  little  sketch,  which  can  by  no  means  be  omitted,  but  which 
I  have  found  it  impossible  to  give  in  its  proper  place.  It 
belongs  to  the  second  week  of  March.  Keats  has  been 
copying  a  long  passage  from  Hazlitt's  Letter  to  William 
Gijjord.  He  breaks  off  to  give  this  intimate  picture  of 
himself,  an  enchanting  little  vignette  which  must  have 
warmed  George's  and  Georgiana's  hearts  as  it  warms  ours. 
It  is  this  sort  of  thing  which  makes  Keats  one  of  the  best 
letter  writers  that  ever  lived. 

" .  .  .  there  is  another  extract  or  two  —  one  especially 
which  I  will  copy  tomorrow  —  for  the  candles  are  burnt 
down  and  I  am  using  the  wax  taper  —  which  has  a  long 
snuff  on  it  —  the  fire  is  at  its  last  click  —  I  am  sitting  with 
my  back  to  it  with  one  foot  rather  askew  upon  the  rug  and 
the  other  with  the  heel  a  little  elevated  from  the  carpet  — 
I  am  writing  this  on  the  Maid's  tragedy  which  I  have  read 
since  tea  with  Great  pleasure.  Besides  this  volume  of 
Beaumont  and  Fletcher  —  there  are  on  the  table  two 
volumes  of  Chaucer  and  a  new  work  of  Tom  Moore's 
called  'Tom  Cribb's  Memorial  to  Congress'  —  nothing  in 
it.  These  are  trifles  but  I  require  nothing  so  much  of  you 
but  that  you  will  give  me  a  like  description  of  yourselves, 
however  it  may  be  when  you  are  writing  to  me.  Could  I 


200  JOHN  KEATS 

see  the  same  thing  done  of  any  great  Man  long  since  dead 
it  would  be  a  great  delight:  As  to  know  in  what  position 
Shakespeare  sat  when  he  began  'To  be  or  not  to  be1  — 
such  things  become  interesting  from  distance  of  time  or 
place.  I  hope  you  are  both  now  in  that  sweet  sleep  which 
no  two  beings  deserve  more  than  you  do  —  I  must  fancy 
you  so  —  and  please  myself  in  the  fancy  of  speaking  a 
prayer  and  a  blessing  over  you  and  your  lives  —  God  bless 
you  —  I  whisper  good  night  in  your  ears  and  you  will 
dream  of  me." 

During  the  month  in  which  Keats  wrote  so  few  letters, 
occurred  an  alteration  in  the  domestic  life  of  the  double 
house,  Wentworth  Place.  The  Dilkes  had  one  boy,  who 
was  the  apple  of  his  father's  eye;  indeed,  so  wrapped  up  in 
him  was  he,  that  his  preoccupation  rather  bored  his  friends. 
Charley  Dilke's  education  was  a  matter  of  the  deepest 
concern  to  his  doting  father,  and  now  that  Charley  had 
reached  the  age  when  a  dame  school  would  no  longer  serve, 
Dilke  was  busy  canvassing  all  the  pros  and  cons  of  various 
institutions.  Finally  Westminster  School  was  chosen,  and 
as  Charley  was  to  be  a  day  boy,  the  Dilkes  determined  to 
let  their  half  of  Wentworth  Place  and  move  to  West- 
minster. The  flitting  took  place  on  April  third.  Although 
the  departure  of  the  Dilkes  was  in  many  ways  a  regret  to 
Keats,  it  had  its  agreeable  side,  for  the  tenants  who  took 
their  house  were  none  other  than  the  Brawne  family.  The 
increased  opportunities  for  meeting,  when  members  of  the 
two  families  could  not  step  into  the  garden  without  the 
chance  of  encountering  one  another,  and  Keats,  looking  out 
of  his  front  parlour  window,  might  at  any  moment  see 
Fanny  Brawne  going  out  or  coming  in,  on  her  way  to  town, 
or  to  walk  on  the  Heath,  must  have  added  a  still  farther 
poignance  to  his  feelings.  More  satisfaction,  but  also 
more  fret,  must  have  been  the  consequence.  On  the  whole, 
however,  I  believe  that  the  satisfaction  won  over  the  fret, 
for  Keats  evidently  gained  in  tone  and  temper  during  the 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  201 

Spring,  a  sure  evidence  being  that  he  began  writing  again, 
more  and  more,  and  better  and  better,  until  he  was  fairly 
embarked  in  that  rush  of  creation  which  produced  La 
Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci  and  the  great  Odes.  How  Sir 
Sidney  Colvin  and  others  can  declare  that  Keats  could  not 
write  when  he  was  near  Fanny  Brawne,  with  the  magnifi- 
cent work  of  this  Spring  —  when  he  was  living,  if  not  in  the 
same  house,  at  least  under  the  same  roof,  with  her  —  star- 
ing them  in  the  face,  only  shows  to  what  lengths  of  false 
reasoning  prejudice  may  lead.  The  season  had  something 
to  do  with  this  spate  of  creation  undoubtedly,  but  the 
excitement  of  his  growing  intimacy  with  Fanny  Brawne 
had  more.  He  wrote  about  her  and  he  wrote  away  from  her 
(in  subject,  I  mean),  but  the  point  is  that  he  wrote,  and 
this  in  spite  of  all  those  external  teasing  facts  which  im- 
proved no  whit  as  time  went  on. 

His  delight  in  the  warm  winds,  bright  sun,  and  peeping 
flowers  of  early  Spring,  is  all  in  this  little  remark  to  Fanny 
Keats  in  a  letter  which  Buxton  Forman  dates  (and  I  think 
quite  rightly)  from  an  incomplete  postmark  as  being 
written  on  Tuesday,  April  thirteenth: 

"I  hope  you  have  good  store  of  double  violets — I 
think  they  are  the  Princesses  of  flowers,  and  in  a  shower  of 
rain,  almost  as  fine  as  barley  sugar  drops  are  to  a  school- 
boy's tongue." 

Yet  even  on  this  very  day,  the  teasing  facts  were  at 
him  again.  Haydon  sent  him  a  querulous  note,  upbraid- 
ing him  for  not  having  lent  him  the  money  he  had  pro- 
mised. It  was  a  nasty  thing  to  do,  for  Haydon  knew  quite 
well  how  hard  Keats  had  tried  to  carry  out  his  promise 
and  the  reasons  why  he  had  been  unable  to  do  so.  For 
what  appears  to  be  the  first  time,  Haydon's  egotistical 
indifference  to  any  one's  comfort  when  his  own  was  in- 
volved seriously  hurt  Keats.  He  answers  Haydon  hon- 
estly and  fairly,  but  he  tells  him  the  flat  truth,  that  he 


202  JOHN  KEATS 

has  tried  and  failed;  and  he  adds,  with  no  desire  to  mince 
matters: 

"  I  have  also  ever  told  you  the  exact  particulars  as  well 
as  and  as  literally  as  any  hopes  or  fear  could  translate 
them." 

In  the  end,  he  breaks  out: 

"It  has  not  been  my  fault.  I  am  doubly  hurt  at  the 
slightly  reproachful  tone  of  your  note . .  .  You  seem'd  so 
sure  of  some  important  help  when  I  last  saw  you  —  now 
you  have  maimed  me  again;  I  was  whole,  I  had  began  read- 
ing again  —  when  your  note  came  I  was  engaged  in  a 
Book.  I  dread  as  much  as  a  Plague  the  idle  fever  of  two 
months  more  without  any  fruit." 

Since  we  know  that  Why  did  I  laugh  to-night?  was  written 
in  the  middle  of  March,  it  was  not  strictly  true  that  the 
last  two  months  had  been  absolutely  barren.  And  in  view 
of  the  number  of  poems  copied  at  the  end  of  the  February- 
May  journal  letter  to  America,  one  cannot  help  wondering 
whether  they  were  all  written  after  the  middle  of  April,  or 
whether  some  can  have  been  composed  earlier,  but  not 
have  been  of  importance  enough  in  Keats's  eyes  to  be 
reckoned  "fruit."  This  is  a  point  which  I  shall  come  back 
to  in  a  moment;  after  all,  there  is  only  one  poem  whose 
position  in  the  letter  I  believe  to  be  really  suspect,  and 
Keats  specifically  told  his  sister  on  this  same  thirteenth  of 
April: "  I  have  written  nothing  and  almost  read  nothing  — 
but  I  must  turn  over  a  new  leaf."  The  new  leaf  was  turned 
over  almost  immediately,  as  we  shall  see. 

The  letter  to  George  was  resumed  on  Thursday,  the 
fifteenth  of  April,  a  date  which  is  very  important  to  us;  at 
least,  if  a  theory  of  mine  which  I  have  several  times  referred 
to  in  regard  to  the  Bright  Star  sonnet  is  of  any  value.  Keats 
tells  George  that  he  has  "  been  to  Mrs.  Bentley's  this  morn- 
ing, and  put  all  the  letters  to  and  from  you  and  poor  Tom 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  203 

and  me."  This  is  an  odd  sentence,  and  clearly  was  intended 
to  have  an  ending  which  Keats  forgot  to  set  down.  Un- 
doubtedly he  meant  to  say  that  he  had  put  the  letters  to- 
gether, or  something  of  the  sort.  What  is  significant  to  us 
is  that  he  had  been  reading  old  letters.  The  principal 
impression  left  on  his  mind  by  this  raking  up  of  the  past,  if 
we  can  judge  by  what  he  says,  was  the  unpleasant  hoax 
played  by  Wells  on  poor  little  Tom;  but  something  else 
came  out  of  it,  and  this  something  was  a  verbal  recollection 
of  a  sentence  in  his  first  letter  from  Scotland  to  Tom  which 
stuck  in  his  head  and  became  incorporated  in  a  sonnet  that 
he  wrote  very  soon  after.  If  my  readers  will  take  the 
trouble  to  turn  back  a  couple  of  chapters  to  the  very 
interesting  commentary  by  Professor  Rusk  on  this  letter, 
they  will  see  how  closely  related  the  sentence  in  question  is 
to  the  Bright  Star  sonnet.  I  have  already  shown  why  I  do 
not  believe  that  the  sonnet,  or  any  idea  of  it,  can  have 
been  in  Keats's  mind  at  the  time  he  wrote  this  letter,1  but 
the  circumstances  when  he  came  to  re-read  it  were  entirely 
different.  The  point  of  view  of  the  sonnet  is  one  only  too 
usual  with  him  at  this  time  —  doubt,  doubt,  always  doubt 
of  Fanny  Brawne's  constancy,  he  himself  believing  one 
day,  ceasing  to  believe  the  next.  Gazing  at  the  star,  he 
longs  to  be  as  steadfast  and  unchangeable,  not  solitary, 
as  it  is,  but  with  his  love,  in  the  certainty  of  perfect  ful- 
filment, and  so  soothed  and  at  rest  continue  till  death 
ends  all.  The  sentence  in  the  letter2  which  became,  with 
only  a  slight  alteration  of  purpose,  incorporated  in  the 
poem  is: 

"  refine  one's  sensual  vision  into  a  sort  of  north  star 
which  can  never  cease  to  be  open  lidded  and  steadfast  over 
the  wonders  of  the  great  Power." 

Let  us  suppose  that  Keats,  meditating  on  his  sonnet, 
finds  running  in  his  head  this  sentence  from  his  recently  re- 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  25.  2  See  Vol.  II,  p.  22. 


204  JOHN  KEATS 

read  letter;  it  exactly  fits  his  purpose  and  he  uses  it  as 
follows: 

"  Bright  star,  would  I  were  steadfast  as  thou  art  — 

Not  in  lone  splendour  hung  aloft  the  night 
And  watching,  with  eternal  lids  apart, 

Like  nature's  devout,  sleepless  Eremite." 

So  far  he  has  kept  very  closely  to  his  original  sentence,  but 
when  he  comes  to  "the  wonders  of  the  great  Power,'* 
instead  of  merely  suggesting  them,  as  in  the  letter,  he 
illustrates  and  describes,  as  befits  a  poetical  pattern.  These 
wonders  must,  however,  in  a  small  compass  seem  to  convey 
everything,  so  he  paraphrases  them,  in  time-honoured 
fashion,  by  the  sea  and  the  mountains.  That  we  should 
expect;  but  the  special  recollection  to  him  here  is  Scotland, 
hence  he  adds  the  "moors."  The  snow,  I  feel  quite  certain, 
owes  its  existence  to  nothing  at  all  but  the  necessity  of  find- 
ing a  rhyme  for  "task";  the  word  "mask"  being  perfectly 
appropriate  to  the  obliterating  effect  of  snow.  It  may  be 
objected  that  "moors"  is  also  merely  a  rhyme  word,  but 
this  I  doubt,  principally  because  it  does  not  properly  rhyme 
at  all.  Also  "shores"  is  not  nearly  so  difficult  a  word  to 
find  a  rhyme  to  as  is  "task."  Then  again,  the  "mountains 
and  the  moors"  line  could  have  been  altered  in  a  num- 
ber of  ways  without  injuring  the  poem,  while  the  idea  in 

"The  morning  waters  at  their  priestlike  task" 

was  too  good  to  lose.1 

Sir  Sidney  Colvin,  in  laying  so  great  a  stress  on  the 
verisimilitude  of  the  snow  flurries2  in  February,  forgets 
that  this  same  snow  would  hide  the  stars.  To  be  sure,  if  we 
allow  any  weight  to  the  realism  of  weather  conditions, 
from  February  twenty-fourth  to  February  twenty-sixth, 
when  Keats  was  at  Taylor's,  there  was  only  the  thinnest 

1  For  Keats's  final  revisions  on  this  sonnet,  see  Vol.  II,  p.  480. 
1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  188. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  205 

and  earliest-setting  of  new  moons,  which,  were  it  not  for 
the  obscuring  snow,  would  help  his  reasoning;  but  my 
theory  is  equally  happy  in  this  respect,  for,  from  April 
fifteenth  until  the  twenty-fourth,  the  moon  was  a  waning 
one,  and  this  left  the  sky,  at  any  hour  when  Keats  would 
be  likely  to  see  it,  under  the  full  influence  of  the  stars. 

I  do  not  say  that  all  this  absolutely  proves  that  the 
Bright  Star  sonnet  was  written  in  mid-April,  I  simply  say 
that  the  evidence  is  very  strong  in  favour  of  it.  Another 
argument  is  the  quality  of  the  sonnet  itself,  which  seems 
to  belong  to  the  flowering  period  just  then  beginning,  and 
to  be  closely  related  in  tenor  to  a  love  poem  which  im- 
mediately followed  it,  As  Hermes  once  took  to  his  feathers 
lighty  whereas,  if  it  were  written  at  the  end  of  February,  it 
was  a  lone  example,  and  its  existence  does  not  seem  to  tally 
with  Keats's  distinct  statement  to  George  on  the  thirteenth 
of  March:  "I  know  not  why  Poetry  and  I  have  been  so 
distant  lately."  Keats  would  scarcely  have  made  such  a 
remark  if  he  had  done  so  good  a  thing  as  the  Bright  Star 
sonnet  within  a  couple  of  weeks.  A  certain  stiffness  in 
handling,  the  result  of  a  long  rest  from  writing,  is  observ- 
able in  Why  did  I  laugh  to-night  ?>  and  this  stiffness  seems  to 
give  that  poem  the  position  of  pioneer  after  his  pause,  a 
pioneer  which  for  some  time  stood  alone.  By  the  time  the 
Bright  Star  was  written,  the  tension  had  snapped,  his 
creative  force  was  ready  to  flow,  and  did  flow  abundantly 
from  then  on  for  a  long  time.  It  is  true  that  Keats  did  not 
copy  this  sonnet  in  the  letter  to  George,  but  that  is  equally 
true  if  it  were  written  in  February.  The  answer  is  not  far  to 
seek;  the  sonnet  would  have  told  George  too  much,  the 
reason  for  it  could  not  have  been  obscured  under  a  sub- 
sidiary meaning  as  in  the  cases  &{Why  did  I  laugh  to-night? 
and  As  Hermes  once  took  to  his  feathers  light. 

The  exact  day  on  which  the  Bright  Star  sonnet  was 
written,  I  cannot  pretend  to  determine.  But  there  is  a 
pregnant  remark  in  his  letter  of  April  fifteenth.  Shortly 


206  JOHN  KEATS 

after  telling  George  of  his  going  to  Mrs.  Bentley's,  he  says: 
"I  am  still  at  a  stand  in  versifying  —  I  cannot  do  it  yet 
with  any  pleasure."  This  looks  as  though  he  had  been 
making  abortive  attempts  at  poetry;  and  what  more 
natural,  in  that  case,  than  for  a  new  attempt  to  turn 
suddenly  and  unexpectedly  into  a  success.  The  probabil- 
ity of  this  speculation  is  enhanced  by  his  seeking  a  start 
from  the  sentence  in  his  old  letter.  I  am  much  inclined, 
because  of  this,  to  hazard  a  conjecture  that  the  sonnet 
was  written  on  either  April  fifteenth,  sixteenth,  or  seven- 
teenth. 

I  have  spoken  of  Wells's  hoax  played  on  Tom,  and  this 
seems  the  moment  to  explain  it.  Wells  wrote  a  series  of 
letters  to  Tom  purporting  to  be  from  a  woman  who  signed 
herself  "  Amena."  This  person  gave  out  that  she  had  fallen 
in  love  with  Tom,  and  the  poor  little  fellow  appears  to  have 
been  completely  taken  in.  I  suppose  the  deception  must 
have  been  discovered  before  Tom  died  or  Keats  would  not 
have  spoken  of  it  as  a  "diabolical  scheme"  and  "a  cruel 
deception  on  a  sanguine  Temperament,"  and  declared  that 
he  hated  it  "to  a  sickness."  Keats  was  cut  to  the  quick, 
naturally,  and  announced  his  intention  of  injuring  Wells  in 
every  way  he  could.  That  he  ever  did  injure  him,  or  make 
any  attempt  in  that  direction,  it  is  folly  to  think;  he  spoke 
of  the  matter  to  George  in  hot  blood,  with  his  heart  full  of 
pain  and  anger.  But  he  broke  with  Wells  at  once,  and  does 
not  seem  to  have  had  anything  more  to  do  with  him.  Wells 
must  have  realized  the  justice  of  his  action,  for  years  after, 
in  1845,  he  wrote  that  when  Keats  "passed  into  the  Land 
of  Spirits"  he  took  "one  half  of  my  heart  with  him."1 

A  little  before  the  period  which  we  have  now  reached,  a 
new  poem  by  Wordsworth  was  announced  for  publication. 
None  of  Keats's  set  had  any  sympathy  with  Wordsworth's 
predilection  for  poems  of  the  Betty  Foyy  Harry  Gill  type. 
The  name  of  this  forthcoming  work,  Peter  Bell,  seemed  to 

1  From  an  article  by  Buxton  Forman  in  the  Bibliophile  Year  Book,  1913. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  207 

herald  another  of  the  genre,  and  the  opportunity  to  offer  a 
slight  chastisement  to  the  poet  for  so  degrading  his  genius 
—  as  these  young  men  considered  it  —  was  too  good  to  be 
missed.  Reynolds  had  a  pretty  wit  of  the  kind  which  lends 
itself  to  parody,  and  he  promptly  dashed  off  an  amusing 
skit  in  Wordsworth's  most  irritatingly  "simple"  vein. 
With  what  seems  to  us  a  very  questionable  license, 
Reynolds  entitled  his  lampoon  Peter  Bell.  A  Lyrical  Ballad. 
To  print  a  parody  of  a  poem  before  it  had  appeared,  from 
guesswork,  and  to  call  that  parody  by  the  very  name  of  the 
forthcoming  original,  is  certainly  a  breach  of  good  taste  if 
not  worse.  But  this  does  not  seem  to  have  troubled  either 
the  author,  or  Taylor  and  Hessey,  the  publishers.  Out  the 
poem  came,  to  the  huge  delight  of  all  the  Reynolds  circle, 
except  perhaps  Keats,  who  wrote  a  review  of  it  for  Hunt  to 
print  in  the  Examiner,  because  Reynolds  had  asked  him  to 
get  Hunt  to  notice  it  and  this  seemed  the  best  way  to  do  so. 
Keats  says  very  little  to  George  about  Reynolds's  jeu 
d' esprit,  although  he  does  remark  by  the  way  that  "It 
would  be  just  as  well  to  trounce  Lord  Byron  in  the  same 
manner."  Keats's  review,  which  came  out  in  the  Examiner 
for  Sunday,  April  twenty-fifth,  is  short,  and,  as  he  says 
himself,  "a  little  politic,"  for  he  is  careful  to  assure  the 
public  that  the  author  (the  parody  was  anonymous)  "  had 
felt  the  finer  parts  of  Mr.  WORDSWORTH'S  poetry,"  and 
here  follows  so  good  a  criticism,  so  admirably  expressed, 
that  it  alone  makes  the  review  worth  while.  Speaking  of 
this  aspect  of  the  parodist,  Keats  says: 

"The  more  he  may  love  the  sad  embroidery  of  the  Excur- 
sion, the  more  will  he  hate  the  coarse  samplers  of  Betty 
Foy  and  Alice  Fell."1 

The  rest  of  the  review  is  taken  up  with  praising  Reynolds's 
deftness,  and  the  whole  ends  with  this  tactful  sentence: 

"  If  we  are  one  part  amused  with  this,  we  are  three  parts 
1See  Vol.  I,  p.  319. 


208  JOHN  KEATS 

sorry  that  any  one  who  has  any  appearance  of  appreciating 
WORDSWORTH,  should  show  so  much  temper  at  this 
really  provoking  name  of  Peter  Bell." 

Keats  describes  his  effort  to  George  by  saying:  "I  keep 
clear  of  all  parties  —  I  say  something  for  and  against  both 
parties,"  and  concludes  with  the  consoling  opinion,  "I  and 
my  conscience  are  in  luck  to  day  —  which  is  an  excellent 
thing."  The  little  paper  was  a  very  neat  feat  of  critical 
trapeze  work,  a  skilful  balancing  between  opposite  im- 
pressions, which  Hunt  eked  out  by  long  quotations  from 
the  parody  and  its  Preface  without  farther  comment.  It 
needed  none. 

I  have  already  spoken  of  the  difficulty  of  dating  these 
journal  letters.  It  seems  to  have  been  on  this  same  fifteenth 
of  April  that  Keats,  who  was  clearly  getting  in  cue  for 
writing  again,  suddenly  broke  into  verse.  Apropos  of 
nothing,he  begins: "  Shall  I  treat  you  to  a  little  extempore," 
and  promptly  does  so.  This  extempore  is  sheer  nonsense, 
dashed  down  at  the  instance  of  a  sudden  fit  of  rhyming.  It 
is  not  even  a  joke,  it  is  just  rhyming  and  no  more,  although 
the  fairy  story  which  he  spins  out  of  it  is  amusing  enough 
to  make  us  wonder  how  the  tale  would  end.  For  it  does  not 
end,  as  it  does  not  begin.  Just  for  fun,  Keats  divides  it  in 
the  middle  by  writing  "End  of  Canto  XII,"  and  beginning 
again  with  "Canto  the  xm."  Twenty-two  lines  farther 
on,  he  stops  as  abruptly  as  he  had  started,  for,  says  he: 

"  Brown  is  gone  to  bed  —  and  I  am  tired  of  rhyming  — 
there  is  a  north  wind  blowing  playing  young  gooseberry 
with  the  trees  —  I  don't  care  so  it  helps  even  with  a  side 
wind  a  Letter  to  me.M 

One  of  Keats's  anxieties  was  that  no  letter  had  come 
from  the  travellers  since  they  started  on  the  last  lap  of  their 
journey  to  Birkbeck's  settlement.  This  silence  lay  all  Winter 
as  a  growing  misery  in  the  back  of  his  mind.  Poor  fellow, 
how  many  worries  were  heaped  on  him  at  once,  and  how 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  209 

bravely  he  sought  to  face  them!    The  rhyming  fit  was  a 
good  sign,  he  was  getting  hold  of  himself. 

Although  Keats  was  tired  of  rhyming,  he  was  not  yet 
tired  of  writing,  and  before  going  to  bed  he  recounted  a 
little  adventure  which  had  happened  to  him  the  Sunday 
before,  April  eleventh.  It  had  no  consequences,  which  is 
perhaps  the  most  important  thing  about  it.  I  give  it 
exactly  as  Keats  jotted  it  down: 

"Last  Sunday  I  took  a  walk  towards  Highgate  and  in 
the  lane1  that  winds  by  the  side  of  Lord  Mansfield's  park  I 
met  Mr.  Green2  our  demonstrator  at  Guy's  in  conversation 
with  Coleridge  —  I  joined  them,  after  enquiring  by  a  look 
whether  it  would  be  agreeable  —  I  walked  with  him  at  his 
alderman-after-dinner  pace  for  near  two  miles  I  suppose. 
In  those  two  Miles  he  broached  a  thousand  things  —  let 
me  see  if  I  can  give  you  a  list  —  Nightingales,  Poetry  — 
on  Poetical  Sensation  —  Metaphysics — Different  genera 
and  species  of  Dreams  —  Nightmare  —  a  dream  accom- 
panied with  a  sense  of  touch  —  single  and  double  touch  — 
a  dream  related  —  First  and  second  consciousness  —  the 
difference  explained  between  will  and  Volition  —  so  many 
metaphysicians  from  a  want  of  smoking  the  second 
consciousness  —  Monsters  —  the  Kraken  —  Mermaids  — 
Southey  believes  in  them  —  Southey's  belief  too  much 
diluted  —  a  Ghost  story  —  Good  morning  —  I  heard  his 
voice  as  he  came  towards  me  —  I  heard  it  as  he  moved 
away  —  I  heard  it  all  the  interval  —  if  it  may  be  called  so. 
He  was  civil  enough  to  ask  me  to  call  on  him  at  Highgate." 

There  is  no  malice  in  this  account,  but  Keats  was  evi- 
dently not  in  key  to  fall  a  victim  to  the  spell  of  Coleridge's 
eloquence.  He  listened  to  the  continuous  rumble  of  words 
without  enthusiasm,  at  least  so  his  lack  of  comment  leads 
us  to  suppose.  All  his  contemporaries  assure  us  that 

1  Mill  field  Lane,  where  Keats  gave  his  Poems  to  Hunt  in  1817. 

1  Joseph  Henry  Green,  afterwards  F.R.S.  and  Professor  of  Anatomy  to 
the  Royal  Academy,  had  been  Junior  Demonstrator  at  St.  Thomas's  Hospi- 
tal in  1816.  He  was  a  disciple  of  Coleridge's  and  an  interpreter  of  his  philos- 
ophy. 


210  JOHN  KEATS 

Coleridge  was  an  inspired  monologist;  but  youth,  even 
highly  intelligent  youth,  endures  monologue  but  ill.  Keats 
endured  it  just  two  miles,  and  seems  to  have  felt  no  hunger 
for  more,  since  he  did  not  avail  himself  of  Coleridge's 
invitation  to  call  on  him  at  Highgate.  Keats  was  not  of  the 
sort  which  sits  at  the  feet  of  older  men.  His  youthful 
idealization  of  Hunt  had  taught  him  a  lesson,  and  his 
admiration  of  Wordsworth  had  been  greatly  tempered  by 
personal  contact.  He  could  admire  profoundly,  but  there 
must  always  be  a  give  and  take  in  his  relations  with  any 
man.  He  did  admire  Coleridge,  but  the  man  who  had 
written  Christabel  and  The  Ancient  Mariner  only  distantly 
resembled  the  portly  person  who  shuffled  along  the  High- 
gate  lanes  emitting  an  unquenchable  stream  of  talk  to 
which  one  must  listen  in  silence  as  it  never  stopped  long 
enough  for  any  one  else  to  get  a  word  in  edgewise.  Keats, 
pulled,  harried,  whirled  hither  and  thither  in  a  hundred 
different  eddies  of  feeling  and  perception,  had  no  leisure 
to  give  to  what  did  not  concern  him,  and  this  sample  of 
Coleridge's  amazing  conversation  served  to  prove  that 
nothing  concerned  him  here.  Coleridge's  poetry  said  much 
that  concerned  him  very  nearly;  Coleridge  himself, 
nothing.  He  did  not  repeat  the  experience. 

Coleridge's  impression  of  the  meeting  is  recorded  in  his 
Table  Talk.  To  him,  who  talked,  the  two  miles  were  but  a 
moment  of  time.  His  recollection  of  the  event  is  interesting 
for  many  reasons,  although,  having  been  taken  down 
thirteen  years  later,  it  is  not  likely  to  be  very  accurate.  In 
the  Table  Talk,  Mr.  Green's  name  is  left  blank;  I  have 
added  it  to  Coleridge's  account,  which  reads: 

"A  loose,  slack,  not  well-dressed  youth  met  Mr.  Green 
and  myself  in  a  lane  near  Highgate.  Green  knew  him  and 
spoke.  It  was  Keats.  He  was  introduced  to  me,  and  stayed 
a  minute  or  so.  After  he  had  left  us  a  little  way,  he  came 
back  and  said :  '  Let  me  carry  away  the  memory,  Coleridge, 
of  having  pressed  your  hand!'  'There  is  death  in  that 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  211 

hand/  I  said,  when  Keats  was  gone;  yet  this  was,  I  believe, 
before  the  consumption  showed  itself  distinctly.11 

It  is  impossible  not  to  see  that  Coleridge's  memory 
played  him  false  in  several  particulars  here,  but  the  hand 
is  important.  Keats  and  his  doctors  were  deceived  as  to 
the  state  of  his  health,  yet  to  a  highly  sentient  man  like 
Coleridge  the  mere  touch  of  his  hand  spelt  disease.  Mr. 
Green  explained  Coleridge's  feeling  by  saying  that  to  him 
Keats's  hand  felt  "cold  and  clammy."  l  A  recently  pub- 
lished version  of  the  same  occurrence,  written  down  after  a 
conversation  with  Coleridge  by  Mr.  John  Frere  in  1829,  has 
much  the  same  story  to  tell.  In  part,  it  says: 

2C.  "Poor  Keats,  I  saw  him  once.  Mr.  Green,  whom 
you  have  heard  me  mention,  and  I  were  walking  out  in 
these  parts,  and  we  were  overtaken  by  a  young  man  of  very 
striking  countenance  whom  Mr.  Green  recognized  and 
shook  hands  with,  mentioning  my  name;  I  wish  Mr.  Green 
had  introduced  me  for  I  did  not  know  who  it  was.  He 
passed  on,  but  in  a  few  moments  sprung  back  and  said, 
'Mr.  Coleridge,  allow  me  the  honour  of  shaking  your 
hand/  I  was  struck  by  the  energy  of  his  manner,  and  gave 
him  my  hand.  He  passed  on,  and  we  stood  still  looking 
after  him,  when  Mr.  Green  said,  'Do  you  know  who  that 
is?  That  is  Keats,  the  poet.1  'Heavens!1  said  I,  '  when  I 
shook  him  by  the  hand  there  was  death ! '  That  was  about 
two  years  before  he  died. 

F.  But  what  was  it? 

C.  I  cannot  describe  it.  There  was  a  heat  and  a  damp- 
ness in  the  hand.  To  say  that  his  death  was  caused  by  the 
Review  is  absurd,  but  at  the  same  time  it  is  impossible 
adequately  to  conceive  the  effect  which  it  must  have  had 
on  his  mind.  It  is  very  well  for  those  who  have  a  place  in 
the  world  and  are  independent  to  talk  of  these  things, 
they  can  bear  such  a  blow,  so  can  those  who  have  a  strong 
religious  principle;  but  all  men  are  not  born  Philosophers, 

1  Specimens  of  the  Table  Talk  of  Samuel  Taylor  Coleridge.   Note. 
*  A  Talk  with  Coleridge,  edited  by  Miss  E.  M.  Green.   Cornhitt  Maga- 
zine, April,  1917. 


212  JOHN  KEATS 

and  all  men  have  not  those  advantages  of  birth  and  edu- 
cation. Poor  Keats  had  not,  and  it  is  impossible  I  say  to 
conceive  the  effect  which  such  a  Review  must  have  had 
upon  him,  knowing  as  he  did  that  he  had  his  way  to  make 
in  the  world  by  his  own  exertions,  and  conscious  of  the 
genius  within  him." 

It  is  quite  obvious  that  this  version  of  the  meeting  is 
the  more  correct  of  the  two.  Nobody  else  describes  Keats 
as  loose  and  slack,  while  everyone  agrees  that  he  had  a 
striking  countenance  and  great  energy  of  manner.  Evi- 
dently Coleridge  had  forgotten  a  good  deal  of  his  original 
impression  when,  three  years  later,  he  dictated  the  passage 
in  his  Table  Talk.  What  is  most  remarkable,  however,  is 
that  Keats  had  been  dead  only  eight  years  when  the  con- 
versation with  Mr.  Frere  took  place;  yet,  although  to  the 
world  at  large  he  was  practically  unknown,  to  the  literary 
world  he  was  "Keats,  the  poet,"  and  Coleridge  speaks  of 
his  "genius"  as  an  indisputable  fact.  Coleridge's  sane  and 
perspicacious  remarks  on  the  effect  of  the  Quarterly  review 
upon  him  are  well  nigh  extraordinary,  considering  that 
the  legend  of  his  having  been  killed  by  the  review  was  rife 
at  the  time,  having  been  given  peculiar  currency  by 
Shelley's  Adonais  and  Byron's  lines  on  Keats  in  Don  Juani 

"Strange  that  the  mind,  that  very  fiery  particle, 
Should  let  itself  be  snuffed  out  by  an  article/1 

It  will  be  remembered  that  Hunt  also  speaks  of  Keats's 
hand,1  but  to  what  period  his  remarks  have  reference  he 
does  not  state. 

Keats  returned  to  his  letter  the  next  day  with  the  first 
mention  of  Fanny  Brawne  which  he  had  allowed  to  creep 
into  it.  Mrs.  Brawne  had  appeared  several  times,  but 
Fanny  had  been  carefully  excluded;  even  now,  her  appear- 
ance was  the  merest  peep.  "  Brown  this  morning  is  writing 
some  Spenserian  stanzas  against  Mrs.,  Miss  Brawne  and 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  258. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  213 

me,"  he  says,  "so  I  shall  amuse  myself  with  him  a  little:  in 
the  manner  of  Spenser — "  Nothing  in  that  to  raise  a 
suspicion  as  to  the  true  state  of  affairs  in  George's  or 
Georgiana's  mind,  nothing  at  all  to  enlighten  them,  unless 
they  were  sagacious  enough  to  understand  the  implications 
of  certain  poems  which  followed.  The  stanzas  on  Brown 
are  passable  fooling,  no  more;  their  value  for  us  is  that  they 
show  the  itch  to  write  verse  persisting.  But  a  little  farther 
on  Keats  has  something  vital  to  relate.  Ostrich-like,  he 
thinks  the  true  content  of  his  communication  is  hidden. 
But  is  it?  Not  to  us,  at  least.  And  the  tale  he  has  to  tell 
refers  to  a  little  time  back;  only  the  sonnet,  which  was  its 
outcome,  seems  to  belong  to  a  very  recent  moment.  The 
question  for  us  is,  did  this  sonnet  precede  the  Bright  Star? 
I  confess  myself  unable  to  answer,  since  it  is  impossible  to 
say  just  when  this  part  of  the  letter  was  written;  there  are 
no  more  dates  in  it  until  the  very  end,  when  we  have,  first, 
the  thirtieth  of  April,  and  then  the  third  of  May.  What 
Keats  says  to  his  brother  and  sister-in-law  is  this: 

"The  fifth  canto  of  Dante  pleases  me  more  and  more  — 
it  is  that  one  in  which  he  meets  with  Paulo  and  Francesca. 
I  had  passed  many  days  in  rather  a  low  state  of  mind,  and 
in  the  midst  of  them  I  dreamt  of  being  in  that  region  of 
Hell.  The  dream  was  one  of  the  most  delightful  enjoy- 
ments I  ever  had  in  my  life.  I  floated  about  the  whirling 
atmosphere  as  it  is  described  with  a  beautiful  figure,  to 
whose  lips  mine  were  joined,  as  it  seemed  for  an  age  —  and 
in  the  midst  of  all  this  cold  and  darkness  I  was  warm  — 
even  flowery  tree-tops  sprung  up,  and  we  rested  on  them, 
sometimes  with  the  lightness  of  a  cloud,  till  the  wind  blew 
us  away  again.  I  tried  a  sonnet  upon  it  —  there  are  four- 
teen lines  but  nothing  of  what  I  felt  in  it  —  O  that  I  could 
dream  it  every  night." 

It  needs  no  knowledge  of  the  theory  of  dreams  and  their 
interpretation  as  set  forth  by  Freud  to  grasp  the  meaning 
of  this.  Those  who  believe  in  the  Freudian  hypothesis,  and 


2i4  JOHN  KEATS 

find  pleasure  in  examining  literature  according  to  the 
tenets  of  psycho-analysis,  have  a  perfect  study  to  their 
hand  in  this  sonnet  and  Keats 's  introduction  to  it.  For  me, 
I  prefer  to  let  the  obvious  speak  for  itself.  Vicarious  though 
a  dream  joy  may  be,  it  is  none  the  less  a  joy.  If  morning 
brought  only  the  half  satisfaction  of  an  unreal  experience, 
the  strange,  superlatively  poignant  sensations  of  that 
experience  did  in  themselves  hold  a  modicum  of  truth. 
The  experience  was  false  to  one  kind  of  fact,  but  eminently 
true  to  another  kind,  the  imaginative.  Yet  it  must  be 
admitted  that  the  truth  of  imaginative  experience,  when 
the  passional  side  of  life  is  in  question,  is  deeply  involved  in 
danger  —  the  danger  of  losing  hold  upon  the  actual  to  find 
solace  in  the  purely  visional.  That  Keats  was  too  robust  a 
man  to  do  this,  we  see  at  every  turn.  This  is  the  sole  evi- 
dence we  have  of  the  languor  of  sensual  dreaming  either  in 
his  letters  or  his  poems.  He  suffered  intensely  and  con- 
tinuously, but  the  very  force  and  clarity  of  his  nature  for- 
bade him  from  indulging  in  the  ready  opiate  of  unreal 
adventure.  Considering  the  intensity  of  his  feelings,  and 
the  extraordinary  fervour  and  vividness  of  his  imaginative 
conceptions,  it  is  nothing  short  of  amazing  to  see  how  sane 
and  whole  his  life  was,  how  single  to  itself  and  to  the  ideal 
he  had  set  up.  I  do  not  mean  that  Keats  reasoned  all  this 
out,  as  he  might  have  done  had  he  lived  to-day,  but  that 
the  unconscious  sanity  of  the  man  brought  about  this 
result. 

Keats  was  quite  right  in  saying  that  he  had  succeeded  in 
getting  nothing  of  his  dream  into  his  sonnet.  In  spite  of 
Dante  Gabriel  Rossetti's  exceedingly  high  opinion  of  it,  I 
cannot  count  it  as  even  approaching  his  best  work.  Even 
Rossetti  was  forced  to  admit  the  flaw  of  the  false  rhyme  of 
"slept"  and  " bereft,"  and  the  fact  that,  as  Rossetti  points 
out,1  "this  anomaly  is  all  the  more  curious  when  we  con- 
sider the  sort  of  echo  it  gives  of  a  line  in  'Endymion,' 

1  From  a  letter  from  Rossetti  to  Buxton  Forman. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  215 

'So  sad,  so  melancholy,  so  bereft' "  l 

does  not  seem  an  adequate  excuse  for  what  is  certainly  a 
weakness  in  construction.  There  are  other  weaknesses  in 
the  sonnet;  for  instance,  the  equivocal  rhythm  of  the  first 
line,2  which  can  be  made  to  take  the  iambic  beat  only  by 
misplacing  the  natural  accent  of  the  words.  These  are 
slight  things,  of  course,  and  could  easily  be  overlooked  if 
the  sonnet  as  a  whole  were  of  finer  stuff.  Unfortunately  it 
has  faults  which  keep  it  from  mounting  at  any  point  into 
the  sparkling  air  of  perfect  expression.  In  the  first  place, 
Keats  could  not  really  get  in  touch  with  his  theme  until 
the  ninth  line.  The  whole  beginning  up  to  this  point  is 
introduction,  and  dull  and  discursive  introduction  at  that. 
"The  dragon  world  with  all  its  hundred  eyes"  is  a  cliche  m 
thought  if  not  expressly  in  form.  One  stale  figure,  "snow 
clad"  is  scarcely  saved  by  applying  it  to  skies;  but  this 
Keats  did  see  and  alter,  "snow  cold  skies"  was  infinitely 
better  and  almost  redeems  its  line.  The  last  line,  being  an 
alexandrine,  is  worth  noticing;  there  are  but  two  other  in- 
stances of  Keats  having  ended  a  sonnet  with  an  alexan- 
drine,3 his  having  done  so  here  is  in  accord  with  the  desire 
for  change  in  the  sonnet  structure  which  was  growing  upon 
him.  How  far  this  desire  led  him,  we  shall  see  before  long. 

As  Hermes  once  took  to  his  feathers  light  seems  to  have 
been  written  directly  into  the  first  volume  of  the  Gary's 
Dante  he  had  taken  with  him  on  his  Scotch  tour.  There 
were  several  false  starts,  for  the  sonnet  did  not  get  going 
easily.  The  first  is  on  the  inside  of  the  recto  cover;  for  the 
second,  he  turned  the  book  round  and  began  on  the  inside 
of  the  verso  cover;  the  third,  and  last,  is  written  on  the  last 
end-paper,  and  here  the  sonnet  is  copied  in  full. 

That  Keats  told  Fanny  Brawne  of  his  dream,  and  that 
both  he  and  she  attached  a  special  significance  to  this 
sonnet,  and,  by  inference,  to  the  passage  which  had 

1  Endymion  Bk.  II.  Line  685.     2  See  Vol.  I,  p.  1 16.     '  To  a  Friend  who 
sent  me  some  Roses,  and  On  sitting  down  to  read  "  King  Lear  '  once  again.     2 


216  JOHN  KEATS 

inspired  it,  is  evident  from  two  things.  One,  that  Keats 
gave  the  book,  with  his  sonnet  in  it,  to  Fanny  Brawne;  the 
other,  that  on  the  flyleaf  of  Volume  I  Fanny  Brawne 
copied  the  Bright  Star  sonnet.  This  proves  nothing  as  to  the 
chronological  priority  of  either  poem,  but  does  seem  to  re- 
late them  as  to  time,  and  gives  a  strong  impression  of  their 
belonging  to  the  same  period  psychologically  in  Fanny 
Brawne's  mind.  Personally,  I  think  it  probable  that 
Fanny  Brawne  had  already  been  given  the  Bright  Star 
sonnet  some  days  previously  to  receiving  the  Hermes,  and 
feeling  for  both  sonnets  in  much  the  same  way,  copied  the 
first  into  her  new,  and  very  dear,  gift,  so  that  she  might  al- 
ways have  them  both  together  and  both  with  the  passage 
from  Dante. 

That  Fanny  Brawne  was  anything  but  cold,  we  can 
plainly  see  by  this  little  action.  And  we  can  see  something 
else,  that  the  lovers  were  enjoying  a  time  of  happiness  and 
confidence.  We  can  read  between  the  lines  to  any  extent 
here;  the  sonnets  and  their  position  in  the  Dante  —  one  in 
his  handwriting,  one  in  hers  —  give  us  every  permission. 

Keats's  almost  buoyant  happiness  just  at  this  time 
appears  in  a  letter  written  on  April  seventeenth  to  his 
sister  Fanny.  His  spirits  were  sky-high  when  he  wrote 
this  delightful  bit  of  fooling: 

"O  there  is  nothing  like  fine  weather,  and  health,  and 
Books,  and  a  fine  country,  and  a  contented  Mind,  and 
diligent  habit  of  reading  and  thinking,  and  an  amulet 
against  the  ennui  —  and,  please  heaven,  a  little  claret  wine 
cool  out  of  a  cellar  a  mile  deep  —  with  a  few  or  a  good 
many  ratafia  cakes  —  a  rocky  basin  to  bathe  in,  a  pad  nag 
to  go  you  ten  miles  or  so;  two  or  three  sensible  people  to 
chat  with;  two  or  three  spiteful  folkes  to  spar  with;  two  or 
three  odd  fishes  to  laugh  at  and  two  or  three  mumskul[l]s  to 
argue  with  —  instead  of  using  dumb  bells  on  a  rainy  day  — ' ' 

And  here  follows  the  rhyme,  Two  or  three  Posies.  In  his  list 
of  delights,  Keats  does  not  mention  the  joy  he  was  then 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  217 

experiencing,  but  in  his  "contented  Mind"  we  see  very 
clearly  a  shadow  picture  of  Fanny  Brawne. 

Did  Keats's  circle  suspect  any  engagement  as  yet?  No,  I 
think  not.  Severn  has  told  that,  early  in  the  Spring  of  1 8 19, 
Keats  took  him  to  call  on  the  Brawnes.  But  he  seems  not 
to  have  had  the  faintest  idea  then,  nor  indeed  until  his 
journey  to  Italy  with  Keats,  that  there  was  anything 
particular  between  Keats  and  the  young  daughter  of  the 
house;  and  he  has  expressly  stated  that  he  had  no  know- 
ledge of  there  being  a  definite  engagement  until  after 
Keats's  death.  Brown,  who  had  Fanny  Brawne  and  Keats 
under  his  nose  all  day,  week  in  and  week  out,  can  scarcely 
have  been  in  complete  ignorance  of  facts  so  patent  for  any 
denizen  of  the  double  house  to  see,  but  how  soon  Keats 
confided  in  him  we  do  not  know.  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Dilke 
probably  suspected  a  great  deal,  although  their  removal  to 
Westminster  may  have  made  them  rather  slower  in  guessing 
the  exact  truth  than  would  have  been  the  case  had  they  re- 
mained at  Hampstead.  For  any  general  knowledge  of  the 
state  in  which  affairs  really  were,  I  think  we  cannot  look 
much  before  the  Winter  of  1820,  and  even  then  only  where 
the  most  intimate  of  the  group  were  concerned.  Haslam, 
for  instance,  heard  nothing  until  after  Keats  had  left 
England.  After  all,  the  fact  that  the  two  families  lived 
under  the  same  roof  and  shared  the  same  garden  gave  the 
lovers  every  opportunity  to  cheat  the  prying  eyes  of  in- 
terested friends,  and  we  may  be  very  sure  that  Keats  took 
great  care  that  visitors  to  Brown's  half  of  the  premises 
should  go  away  no  wiser  than  they  came. 

Brown  was  a  sociable  spirit,  and  so  was  Keats  until  illness 
made  him  otherwise.  They  liked  to  have  their  friends  come 
out  from  town  as  often  as  they  would.  We  learn  of  the 
Dilkes  coming  out  to  dinner  and  of  Hunt  doing  the  same;  of 
a  "claret  feast"  somewhere,  at  which  were  present  Dilke, 
Reynolds,  Brown,  and  various  others,  "We  all  got  a  little 
tipsy  —  but  pleasantly  so";  of  a  visit  with  Hunt  to  Sir 


2i  8  JOHN  KEATS 

John  Leicester's  Gallery,  and  another  with  Severn  to  the 
British  Museum;  of  various  calls  on  Mrs.  Wylie;  of 
occasional  jaunts  to  the  theatres;  even  of  a  rout  at  Sawrey's 
"which  was  made  pleasant  by  Reynolds's  being  there." 
Once  Keats's  sociability  proved  a  little  too  much  for  him. 
Here  is  his  account  of  a  fatiguing  day: 

"Yesterday  I  could  not  write  a  line  I  was  so  fatigued  for 
the  day  before  I  went  to  town  in  the  morning  called  on 
your  Mother,  and  returned  in  time  for  a  few  friends  we  had 
to  dinner.  These  were  Taylor,  Woodhouse,  Reynolds  — 
we  began  cards  at  about  9  o'Clock,  and  the  night  coming  on 
and  continuing  dark  and  rainy  they  could  not  think  of 
returning  to  town.  So  we  played  at  Cards  till  very  day- 
light —  and  yesterday  I  was  not  worth  a  sixpence." 

What  day  this  "yesterday"  was,  is  problematical,  but  as 
this  is  the  part  of  the  letter  in  which  Keats  quotes  his  re- 
view of  Peter  Bel/,  and  that  review  came  out  on  Sunday, 
the  twenty-fifth,  we  may  be  fairly  certain  that  he  was  writ- 
ing during  the  week  beginning  on  Monday,  the  nineteenth. 
There  appears  to  be  a  break  after  the  quotation,  for  Keats 
goes  on:  "The  other  night  I  went  to  the  Play1  with  Rice, 
Reynolds  and  Martin  .  .  .  that  was  on  Saturday  —  I  stopt 
at  Taylor's  on  Sunday  with  Woodhouse  —  and  passed  a 
quiet  sort  of  pleasant  day."  By  tallying  up  the  various 
apparent  fresh  beginnings  in  the  letter  since  the  date  of 
April  fifteenth,  it  seems  evident  that  the  Sunday  spent  at 
Taylor's  was  the  eighteenth.  Among  other  doings  of  the 
ensuing  week,  Keats  went  to  the  Panorama  in  Leicester 
Square,  which  had  two  views  on  exhibition  just  then,  one 
of  the  North  Coast  of  Spitzbergen,  the  other  of  St.  Peters- 
burg, each  requiring  an  entrance  fee  of  one  shilling.2 
Keats  seems  to  have  economized  by  going  to  only  one  of 
these  exhibits,  or  at  least  only  one  made  an  impression 
upon  him,  but  that  made  a  great  deal.  It  is  with  the  ut- 

1  According  to  Keats,  this  was  "a  new  dull  and  half  damn'd  opera 
call'd  'the  Heart  of  Mid  Lothian.' " 

2  Leigh's  New  Picture  of  London.   1819. 


Never  Acted. 


THEATRE  ROYAL,  COVENT-GARDBN 

This  prefent  SATURDAY,  April  17,  t8i$, 

1 


.  WlUUaaad  a  New  MafealDnoM,   (la  S  afe)   calk* 

The  Heart 
MID-LOTHIAN 

The  Sttncryk  entirely  ncw-.od  the  t^&g^^J^^J™^^  "^  ^ 

S«^«ry  Craig*  art  Artktt/t  Scat,  vttk  I>wwwV  C,*%8f  *"  '^^TlV^oS^ 

MtfSk*fsCair*—*»d  HotgnodHwfa  Jto*t  a  Gttr<U*  jonmrly  bcknghg  to  it. 


egree,  vitk  ike  To/toot*.  sotosckck,  gsc<—p*Ws  Welk  ,Hf*rf?oty- 
rood  Ho*J<-~u»d  a  Gotte  Ckamter,  Jbrmerij  in  Hoiyrood  //ew/<r.—  «l(b  by  Grieve. 
"Tke  O*M  of  DuoAMUre}  Ho*Je.  •  Wham  ore. 

oj  Do.  a*J  Hut  ,f  Madge  Wiltfr*.  Hodgin.. 

«nd  MVMOK.  «bieh  are  fMcami  fram  the  mod  approved  Scotch  All*. 
i  by  Mr.  BISHOP. 


Lord  Oakdale    by    Mr.    EGERTON. 
Wilmot    f  his  Secretary)    by  Mi.  CONNOR, 

Laird  of  Dumbiedikes.    Mr.  LISTON. 

George     Robertfon.        Mr.        MAC  READY, 

David  Deans.    Mr.    TERRY, 

Ratchfl,    Mr   EMERY, 
Sharpitlaw    by   Mr.    BLANCHARD, 
Saddletree  by  Mr.  SIMMONS. 
Rioters, 

Meff.  Comer,  Treby,  Norrb,  Crumpton*  George,  Gnkhwi,  H«1jr,  Lee,  MoougiM.  G.  P/ne, 

I.  S.  &  C.  Ten,  Wutt.  William* 
Mcfi.  Collet,  Goodwin,  Gouriet.  O-ini,  Hutb,  I  ems  P  •*',  V«!y 

Mrs  Balchriftie  by  Mrs  DAVENPORT, 
Effie    Deans        by        Mifs        STEPHENS, 

Jeanie  Deans;     Mils  BKUNTON, 
Madge  Wildfire     by      Mrs.    C.    KEMBLE. 

Jl«4/  ./  /',*  ^.*f/  to  Ac  AW  i.  A 


A  fi«  «  hicb.  the  F.irre  of 


_  . 

The  Deaf  Lover. 

Capt.  McatUma  [the  LVaf  I^>vpr]  by  Mr.  W.  FARREN, 

Old  Wronpvanl,  Mr.  HI.ANC1IAK1),      Yc.onz  Wrunguanl,  Mr.  CONNOR, 

Catitren  by  Mr  COMKR,     Stcruhold,  Mr.  ATKINS.    Uroom,  Mr  SIMMONS 

Hubert  Mr.  Trcby,  William  Mr  Kmp,  John  MrJeHtMii^,  Jor  MrCrumptou 

Cook  by  "Mr  L<tuw,    C^entUmtn,  Mrff.  Ilealv  anil  Heath, 
Sojihia  by  Mm  T.  HILL,  Brtley  Uloflmn   by  Mia.  GIBAS. 

Ladies,'  Mt-fdanit*  Shaw  and  Svxton,    ChHinbcruiaid,  Mifs  Grr  en. 
i3-  AOr  AN  ORDER  can  be  admitted. 


M  rTYA  T  ES~vT«iT  honoured  "wuh  th<-  molt  cnthulialhck  applmtle  in  the  character  of 

pff—  bolli  ' 


FA  LSTA  Fi-\  and  will  Aiortly  appear  in  n-w  (  ^ 

1  henew  Grand  Speaacle  of  ifORTUKA  TL'S  $• 

having  been  received  throughout  with  the  moft  unqtmlified  fucculs, 
will  be^  rcpeatwi  every  Kvening  next  week. 
OiTacvount  oflhe  fij«at  demand  for  Places, 

TheTragedy  of  Jj?  VA  DNE  will  be  repeated 

Op  Vcdnefday  and   Friday. 
Due  notice  will  be  pvcoaT  the  nut  r«p«f«nUtion  of    The  MARRUOE  of  FIGARO. 


PLAY  BILL 
KEATS  WAS  PRESENT  ON  THIS  EVENING 

From  tli?  (H'H/hitil  in  the  jmss< ssion  of  Louis  A.  //olnnin,  Vi.s 


SWIFT  CURRENTS 


219 


most  enthusiasm  that  he  describes  the  picture  of  Spitz- 
bergen  to  George,  and  as  his  attitude  toward  it  is  a  proof 
of  his  avidness  for  all  kinds  of  experience,  real  or  vicarious, 
his  intelligent  interest  in  every  kind  of  fact  —  a  quality 
which  so  ably  balanced  his  preoccupation  with  matters  of 
fancy  —  I  give  it  here: 

"I  have  been  very  much  pleased  with  the  Panorama  of 
the  Ship  at  the  north  Pole  —  with  the  icebergs,  the 
Mountains,  the  Bears,  the  Wolves  —  the  seals,  the 
Penguins  —  and  a  large  whale  floating  back  above  water 
—  it  is  impossible  to  describe  the  place." 

One  of  the  most  refreshing  things  about  Keats  is  his 
perfect  lack  of  pose.  He  was  too  great  an  artist  to  despise 
what  was  not  "artistic."  Everything  was  grist  to  his  mill 
which  gave  him  a  new  idea,  something  which  his  mind 
could  work  upon  and  assimilate.  He  never  allowed  theory 
to  interfere  with  adventure,  as  is  the  habit  with  little 
souls  aspiring  after  the  aesthetic.  Formulae  annoyed  him, 
he  was  a  free  spirit. 

Immediately  after  the  description  of  the  Panorama, 
there  is  a  new  date:  "Wednesday  Evening,"  a  Wednesday 
which  we  must  suppose  to  have  been  April  twenty-eighth. 
This  date  is  very  important  because,  following  at  once 
upon  it,  Keats  copies  La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci.  As  the 
poem  has  several  corrections  in  it,  and  an  abortive  begin- 
ning to  the  second  line  of  the  eleventh  stanza,  we  may 
conclude  that  it  had  just  been  composed.  This  would  seem 
to  determine  the  day  on  which  it  was  written  as  being 
April  twenty-eighth,  1819. 

Leigh  Hunt  is  responsible1  for  our  knowledge  of  what  is 
probably  the  fact,  that  Keats  got  the  idea  of  his  poem  from 
the  title  of  a  translation,  formerly  imputed  to  Chaucer,  of 
a  poem  by  Alain  Chartier,  the  court  poet  of  Charles  the 

1  In  an  introduction  to  the  poem  when  it  was  printed  in  the  Indicator 
on  May  10, 1820;  reprinted  in  Buxton  Forman's  Library  Edition  of  Keats's 
works. 


220  JOHN  KEATS 

Second  of  France.  This  title  —  none  other  indeed  than  La 
Belle  Dame  Sans  Mercy  —  had  already  intrigued  him,  for 
he  took  it  for  the  name  of  the  Provencal  ditty  sung  by 
Porphyro  to  Madeline  in  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes.  That  Keats, 
in  his  second  use  of  it,  gave  the  last  word  its  French  spell- 
ing, is  indicative  of  his  sense  of  taste  and  the  extent  to 
which  it  had  fascinated  him.  But  there  was  more  in  this 
old  English  translation  to  set  Keats  on  his  way,  for  a  note 
prefixed  to  the  poem  explained  that  M.  Alain  "framed  this 
dialogue  between  a  gentleman  and  a  gentlewoman,  who 
finding  no  mercy  at  her  hand  dieth  for  sorrow."  The  point 
for  us  to  notice  is  that  it  was  the  title  and  this  note  that 
gave  Keats  his  Belle  Dame  and  not  the  poem  itself,  which, 
as  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  says,  is  "a  cold  allegoric  dialogue." 
The  hunt  for  sources,  ever  dear  to  the  heart  of  scholars,  is 
rather  more  important  than  usual  here,  for  by  it  I  believe 
we  learn  the  true  genesis  of  the  poem,  and  considerable 
of  the  workings  of  Keats's  mind  at  just  this  time.  We 
will,  then,  go  into  the  matter  a  little  and  see  what  we  may 
find. 

After  commenting,  much  as  Sir  Sidney  has  done,  on 
Chartier's  poem,  Professor  de  Selincourt  decides  that  "in 
idea  and  atmosphere  Keats's  poem  is  closer  to  Spenser's 
description  of  Phaedria."  This  description  is  to  be  found  at 
the  beginning  of  the  Sixth  Canto  of  the  Second  Book  of  the 
Faerie  Queene.  In  Spenser,  a  knight,  wandering  beside  a 
river,  encounters  a  lady  in  a  small  boat.  The  lady  is  sing- 
ing gaily  to  herself,  but  on  the  knight's  calling  to  her  she 
draws  in  to  the  shore  and  takes  him  into  the  boat,  with  the 
ostensible  intention  of  ferrying  him  across  the  river.  Once 
on  board,  however,  the  lady,  who  is  "fresh  and  fayre," 
essays  to  charm  the  knight  in  various  ways.  She  tells  him 
"merry  tales"  which  she  drowns  with  "laughter  vaine" 
and  turns  "all  her  pleasaunce  to  a  scoffing  game."  Then 
she  falls  to  decking  her  head  with  garlands  and  putting 
"fresh  flowrets"  about  her  neck.  The  knight  is  greatly 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  221 

delighted  at  all  this  and  asks  her  name,  which  the  lady 
tells  him  is  Phaedria  and  adds  that  she  is  a  servant  to 
Acrasia,  whom  they  both  know  to  be  an  enchantress.  After 
a  while,  the  boat  touches  at  an  island.  The  pair  land,  and 
the  lady  guides  the  knight  to  a  "shady  dale,"  where  she 
takes  his  head  upon  her  lap  and  lulls  him  to  sleep  with 
a  "love  lay."  As  soon  as  he  is  fast  asleep,  she  pours 
"liquors  strong"  upon  his  eyes  to  keep  him  so,  gets  into  her 
boat  and  departs.  From  this  point,  Spenser's  tale  has  no 
resemblance  to  Keats's. 

The  first  thing  to  be  noted  for  a  comparative  analysis  is 
that  the  whole  feeling  of  Spenser's  episode  is  totally  unlike 
that  of  Keats.  Let  us  tabulate  the  likenesses  and  unlike- 
nesses  between  the  two  poems.  For  the  parallels:  A  knight 
meets  a  beautiful  lady  who  makes  love  to  him.  She  wears  a 
garland  on  her  head,  and  leads  him  to  a  retired  place  where 
she  sings  to  him  and  where  he  falls  asleep.  She  has  know- 
ledge of  herbs.  She  is  connected  with  an  enchantress.  The 
knight  being  asleep,  she  deserts  him.  For  the  differences: 
Spenser's  lady  comes  in  a  boat.  She  is  full  of  mirth.  She 
takes  the  knight  into  her  boat  instead  of  the  knight  plac- 
ing her  on  his  "pacing  steed."  She  scoffs  and  wantons, 
whereas  Keats's  lady  never  ceases  weeping  and  lament- 
ing. In  Keats's  poem,  the  knight  takes  an  active  part  in 
the  love-making;  in  Spenser's,  he  is  perfectly  passive.  In 
Spenser,  the  lady  puts  garlands  on  her  own  head;  in  Keats, 
the  knight  makes  a  garland  for  her.  There  is  no  dream  in 
Spenser's  poem,  and  the  whole  denouement  of  Keats's  tale 
is  quite  other  than  Spenser's,  whose  knight  awakes  in 
shame  to  think  that  he  has  lost  so  much  time  in  "slouth- 
full  sleepe,"  and  with  no  thought  of  the  lady  endeavours  to 
leave  the  island. 

Certain  actions,  then,  Keats  seems  to  have  taken  from 
Spenser,  but  his  atmosphere  he  must  certainly  have  found 
elsewhere,  or  at  least  whatever  of  it  he  did  not  invent  him- 
self, which  was  far  the  greater  part.  I  think  no  one  has  ever 


222  JOHN  KEATS 

thought  of  seeking  for  the  colouring  of  Keats's  poem  in 
Palmerin  of  England,  and  yet  there  is  so  much  of  it  in  that 
book  that  it  must  be  taken  into  careful  consideration.  We 
know  that  Keats  was  reading  Palmerin  at  this  time,  and  in 
Palmerin  forlorn  knights  abound.  The  type  of  fairy  lore 
made  use  of  in  La  Belle  Dame  is  ever  present  in  Palmerin. 
It  is  true,  there  is  no  event  in  that  book  which  bears  the 
faintest  resemblance  to  what  we  may  term  the  plot  of  La 
Belle  Damey  but  there  is  nearly  everything  else.  For 
instance,  Keats's  description  of  the  melancholy  "Knight- 
at-arms,"  "so  haggard  and  so  woebegone,"  is  tallied  in 
many  places.  To  give  only  a  few:  In  the  first  volume,  we 
read  that  Palmerin  in  grief,  thinking  that  his  lady, 
Polinarda,  does  not  care  for  him,  that  he  has  offended  her, 
will  take  no  food,  "he  remained,  leaning  upon  one  hand 
with  his  eyes  fixed  upon  the  fountain  below  him  . . .  With 
this  he  paused  awhile,  weakness  depriving  him  both  of 
strength  and  breath  to  express  the  words  which  sorrow  and 
love  suggested."  It  will  be  remembered  that  Keats's  knight 
loiters  by  a  lake,  which  in  this  passage  is  parallelled  by  the 
fountain.  A  little  later  on  in  the  same  volume  is:  "And  in 
these  thoughts,  sad  one  hour,  and  sadder  another,  he 
travelled  on."  The  words  italicized  here,  Keats  scored, 
which  shows  the  impression  they  made  upon  him.  In  the 
second  volume,  we  find:  "And  if  at  any  time  he  was  at 
leisure  he  passed  it  in  melancholy  contemplation  under  the 
trees,  recounting  his  sorrows."  Again,  we  have  this  particu- 
larly striking  resemblance:  "lying  with  his  face  over  that 
clear  and  quiet  water,  he  began  to  call  his  lady  Polinarda 
to  mind,  and  the  length  of  time  it  was  since  he  had  seen  her 
.  . .  the  passion  therefore  became  so  strong  upon  him,  that 
his  strong  heart  failed,  and  such  was  the  power  of  these 
fantastic  thoughts  over  him,  that  with  the  semblance  of 
one  dead  he  lay  at  the  foot  of  the  willow  trees." 

We  must  not  forget  that  Keats's  knight  met  a  lady  "in 
the  meads,"  who  is  described  as  "a  faery's  child"  and 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  223 

whose  hair  we  are  especially  told  was  "long"  and  her  eyes 
"wild."  We  are  not  directly  told  that  she  was  in  trouble  of 
some  sort,  but  that  is  clearly  inferred.  Palmerin  gives  us 
no  exact  reproduction  of  this,  but  some  very  close  indi- 
cations, as  follows:  At  the  very  beginning  of  the  book,  a 
lady  appears  who  is  not  only  "fair  by  nature,  but  her 
attire  made  her  seem  fair,"  and  "she  was  the  daughter  of 
the  lady  enchantress."  Farther  on  in  the  same  volume  is 
another  episode:  "So  it  befel,  that  one  day  at  evening, 
about  half  a  league  from  the  city  of  London,  he  espied  a 
damsel  on  a  white  palfrey  come  riding  toward  him,  her  hair 
spread  over  her  shoulders,  and  her  garments  seeming  to  be 
greatly  misused;  all  the  way  as  she  rode,  she  used  many 
shrieks,  and  grievous  lamentations,  filling  the  air  with  her 
cries."  This  is  a  traitorous  young  woman,  a  servant,  or 
maid,  to  the  sorceress  Eutropa.  In  the  fourth  volume  is 
an  even  more  exact  comparison:  "while  he  of  the  Tyger 
was  washing  his  hands  and  face,  his  helmet  being  placed 
upon  a  stone  beside  him  [again  there  is  water,  be  it  ob- 
served], there  rushed  out  a  damsel  from  the  thickest  of  the 
wood,  with  her  hair  dishevelled,  her  face  streaming  with 
tears,  her  colour  gone,  and  her  apparel  all  torn  by  the 
trees."  A  still  better  one  is  to  be  found  in  the  second 
volume:  "he  espied  a  damsel  come  riding  towards  him,  her 
hair  loose,  and  she  using  such  speed  as  the  fear  she  was  in 
occasioned."  Keats's  lady  is  not  described  as  weeping  un- 
til the  grot  is  reached,  but  the  fact  is  implied  throughout. 
Keats's  knight  sets  her  on  his  "  pacing  steed  "  and  leads  her, 
as  is  shown  by  her  bending  to  him  when  she  sings.  In 
Palmerin,  ladies  are  constantly  being  picked  up  and  placed 
on  palfreys:  "then  placing  her  on  her  palfrey  he  rode  with 
her  and  her  company  along  the  valley,"  "placing  Arlanza 
on  a  palfrey  which  was  brought  her,  he  returned  to  his 
company,  talking  to  her  as  they  went."  They  are  even  led 
at  times:  "Primaleon,  to  pay  Don  Duardos  something  of 
the  debt  of  their  old  friendship,  would  lead  the  queen 


224  JOHN  KEATS 

of  Scots,  his  daughter-in-law's  palfrey  by  the  bridle,  till  she 
came  to  the  palace  gate." 

There  are  references  to  garlands  for  the  head  in  Pal- 
merin  as  well  as  in  the  Faerie  Queene,  while  Keats's  line 
"And  made  sweet  moan"  is  often  duplicated  in  the  old 
romance:  "woeful  moan  of  the  ladies,"  "which  may  urge 
you  to  remember  my  moan,"  "who  thus  framed  his  moan." 
Keats's  lady  uses  her  grief  as  a  means  to  get  the  knight  into 
her  toils,  a  practice  quite  common  in  Palmerin,  where  it  is 
recounted:  "The  damsels  whom  Eutropa  sent  out,  each 
using  subtlety  with  tears  and  lying  stories  which  craved 
help  for  some  just  cause";  also  "preparing  herself  to  a 
deceitful  course,  and  intermeddling  her  talk  with  tears." 

I  have  already  said  that  there  is  no  such  tale  in  Pal- 
merin  as  Keats  wove  for  his  poem,  but  there  are  certain 
parallel,  if  unrelated,  parts  of  it.  One  of  these  tells  of  a 
damsel  "of  rare  and  excellent  beauty"  who  has  a  wounded 
knight  carried  into  her  castle,  which  Knight,  having  re- 
covered, would  go  his  way,  but "  grieving  to  see  him  so  bent 
upon  departing,  she  strove  with  loving  words  to  detain 
him  . . .  oftentimes  confessing  to  him  in  plain  words  her 
love."  We  have  seen  that  there  is  no  "grot"  in  the 
Faerie  §}ueene\  in  Palmerin  there  is  a  very  large  and  fine 
one  "like  a  gateway,  hewn  in  the  rock,"  and  although  the 
knight's  reason  for  being  there  bears  no  sort  of  likeness  to 
the  reason  which  brought  Keats's  knight  to  his,  there  is 
some  resemblance  between  the  two,  for  Keats's  cave  is  an 
"elfin  grot,"  and  the  one  in  Palmerin  "had  for  long  time 
been  the  abode  of  famous  enchanters."  Keats's  knight 
wakes  on  the  "  cold  hill's  side";  in  Palmerin,  Florian  enters 
the  cavern,  "Then  quickening  his  pace,  it  was  not  long  be- 
fore he  found  himself  on  the  other  side  of  the  Sierra,  in  a 
great  square  field." 

There  is  nothing  resembling  the  dream  in  Palmerin ,  and 
yet  I  think  that  Keats  obtained  much  of  the  picture  of  it 
from  that  work,  for  Florian,  once  more  in  the  cave,  "  look- 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  225 

ing  round  about  the  court,  he  saw  that  it  was  full  of  statues 
of  famous  men,"  and  Keats's  "pale  Kings  and  Princes  too" 
seems  taken  very  directly  from  the  description  of  the  kings 
and  princes  embalmed  in  the  mortuary  temple  on  the 
Perilous  Isle,  which  is  one  of  the  closing  scenes  ofPalmerin. 

I  have  dwelt  on  all  this  at  so  great  length,  because  I 
wish  it  to  prepare  a  statement  which  I  am  aware  will  be 
somewhat  startling.  It  is,  indeed,  nothing  more,  nor  less, 
than  that  I  believe,  after  carefully  examining  all  the  data, 
La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci  not  to  be  an  autobiographical 
poem,  and  not  connected,  except  in  the  most  general  way, 
with  Keats  himself  and  Fanny  Brawne.  Far  from  the  poem 
bearing  any  reference  to  some  tiff  or  misunderstanding 
between  the  lovers,  I  think  it  proves  exactly  the  opposite 
—  that  the  rapprochement  of  ten  days  before,  evinced  in 
the  Bright  Star  and  As  Hermes  once  took  to  his  feathers  light 
sonnets,  had  suffered  no  change.  Keats  was  in  perfect  cue 
for  writing,  as  he  would  assuredly  not  have  been  had  any 
sudden  quarrel  upset  his  equilibrium.  And  he  was  more 
than  that,  he  was  so  abundantly  free  to  apply  himself  to 
poetry  that  he  could  even  experiment  in  new  methods  and 
modes.  For  La  Belle  Dame  is  essentially  an  experimental 
poem. 

I  have  already  pointed  out1  how  earnestly  Keats  sought 
to  discover  his  proper  direction,  and  this  was  never  more 
true  than  during  the  Winter  and  Spring  of  1819.  He  had 
laboured  intermittently  at  the  epic  form,  as  embodied  in 
Hyperion,  for  months,  but  without,  in  his  own  opinion, 
attaining  any  great  measure  of  success.  He  had  begun  it 
twice,  as  I  shall  explain  in  a  later  chapter,  but  neither 
attempt  satisfied  him.  The  second,  that  which  we  call 
Hyperion,  seems  to  have  been  carried  as  far  as  we  know  it 
when,  in  April,  he  lent  his  manuscript  to  Woodhouse.  Why 
none  of  Keats's  biographers  have  made  use  of  Woodhouse's 
remarks  about  this  manuscript  in  a  note  in  his  copy  of 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  602. 


226  JOHN  KEATS 

Endymion,1  I  cannot  conceive,  for  they  are  of  the  utmost 
importance,  largely  on  account  of  the  time  when  they  were 
written.  The  note  is  carefully  dated  "April.  1819."  What 
Woodhouse  says  is  this:  "K.  lent  me  the  fragment  here 
alluded  to  for  perusal.  It  contains  2  books  &  %  —  (about 
900  lines  in  all).  He  said  he  was  dissatisfied  with  what  he 
had  done  of  it;  and  should  not  complete  it.  This  is  much  to 
be  regretted."  So  we  see  that  Keats's  disgust  with  the 
poem  long  anticipated  his  statements  on  the  subject  to 
Reynolds  in  the  following  September.  Already,  by  April, 
he  had  laid  it  aside,  more  or  less  definitely  in  his  own 
opinion.  Here,  then,  was  a  direction  which  appeared  to 
have  failed  him.  But  the  urge  to  find  his  way  continued. 
The  Eve  of  Sf.  Agnes,  however,  he  could  not  help  seeing  bore 
unmistakable  signs  of  success;  it  was  not  finished  to  his 
satisfaction  yet,  but  he  was  not  in  a  mood  for  revision,  only 
for  creation.  His  old  love,  the  age  of  chivalry,  had  stood 
him  in  good  stead  in  St.  Agnes,  could  he  not  attack  it  from 
a  new  angle  and  find  a  path  in  so  doing  ?  The  idea  was  an 
inspiriting  one,  and  he  forthwith  let  his  subconscious  mind 
play  with  it  a  little.  The  result  was  a  welding  of  an  old 
ballad  form  with  a  type  of  atmosphere  so  novel  as  to  be 
nothing  short  of  astounding.  Working  from  Chartier's 
intriguing  title,  with  a  hint  from  one  of  Spenser's  stories 
and  the  absolutely  enchanting  properties  which  were 
scattered  for  him  all  through  the  four  volumes  of  Palmerin, 
Keats  suddenly  and  unexpectedly  produced  one  of  the 
finest  poems  in  all  literature,  and  a  poem  so  utterly  fresh 
that  it  opened  to  English  poetry  an  entirely  unexplored 
field.  To  us,  familiars  of  the  region  through  Keats's 
disciples,  the  pre-Raphaelites,  La  Belle  Dame  remains  the 
chief  of  its  genre,  although  the  peculiar  quality  of  its  atmo- 
sphere is,  necessarily,  no  longer  so  striking.  It  seems  fair  to 
assume  that  Keats  never  quite  realized  what  marvelous 
pioneer  work  he  had  done  in  this  one  short  poem,  since  it 

1  Owned  by  W.  van  R.  Whitall,  Esq.,  of  New  York. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  227 

remains  the  sole  specimen  of  its  kind  which  he  wrote.  But 
we  must  not  forget  how  brief  a  time  was  left  him  to  write, 
and  how  crowded  with  work  that  time  was.  Also,  there  is 
another  thing:  Keats's  inveterate  habit  of  keeping  a  number 
of  poems  going  at  once.  When  a  mood  was  on  him,  he 
wrote  as  long  as  it  lasted;  if  his  mood  changed,  he  dropped 
the  poem  on  which  he  was  engaged,  then  and  there,  and 
turned  to  something  else.  When  the  former  mood  returned, 
if  it  did,  he  went  back  to  his  abandoned  poem.  Frequently 
this  occurred  several  times  in  the  course  of  one  poem. 
This  is  the  reason  for  the  various  fragments  found  in  his 
portfolios  after  his  death.  In  these  cases,  he  had  died  be- 
fore the  special  moods  required  had  happened  to  return. 

La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci  was  the  product  of  a  very 
special  mood  indeed,  and  it  did  not  happen  to  re-visit  him 
during  the  remainder  of  his  writing  life,  but  it  seems  very 
probable  that  in  this  poem  we  have  a  clear  indication  of  a 
direction  which  he  would  certainly  have  followed  had  time 
been  vouchsafed  him. 

The  "kisses  four"  with  which  Keats's  knight  closed  the 
elfin  damsel's  "wild  wild  eyes"  have  been  the  source  of 
much  comment,  and  the  first  commentator  was  Keats 
himself.  Immediately  after  copying  the  poem  in  the  letter 
to  George,  he  wrote: 

"Why  four  kisses  —  you  will  say  —  why  four  because  I 
wish  to  restrain  the  headlong  impetuosity  of  my  Muse  — 
she  would  have  fain  said  'score'  without  hurting  the 
rhyme  —  but  we  must  temper  the  Imagination  as  the 
Critics  say  with  Judgement.  I  was  obliged  to  choose  an 
even  number  that  both  eyes  might  have  fair  play,  and  to 
speak  truly  I  think  two  a  piece  quite  sufficient.  Suppose  I 
had  said  seven  there  would  have  been  three  and  a  half  a 
piece  —  a  very  awkward  affair  and  well  got  out  of  on  my 
side—11 

This  is  most  excellent  fooling,  but  it  covered  a  quandary. 
In  specifying  the  exact  number  of  kisses,  Keats  was  simply 


228  JOHN  KEATS 

following  the  old  ballad  tradition,  as  he  knew  quite  well; 
but  the  question  was  how  well  known  would  this  tradition 
be  to  the  majority  of  readers.  To  anyone  unfamiliar  with 
the  quaint  exactness  of  enumeration  so  beloved  of  the 
ancient  balladists,  was  not  the  line  open  to  ridicule?  And 
any  suspicion  of  ridicule  was  bound  to  shiver  the  atmo- 
sphere of  the  poem  to  atoms.  So  Keats,  with  his  critical 
instinct  jealously  awake  for  the  safety  of  his  strange  and 
beautiful  atmosphere,  proceeded  to  step  outside  his  poem 
and  ridicule  it  himself  as  an  experiment.  His  was  kindly 
ridicule,  but  what  would  that  of  the  critics  be?  In  the  end, 
he  distrusted  his  audience  so  thoroughly  that  he  altered  the 
line,  and  very  much  for  the  worse.  When,  a  year  later,  the 
poem  was  printed  in  the  Indicatory  Keats  was  too  worn  out 
and  discouraged  to  do  battle  for  his  original  conception, 
and  let  Hunt  persuade  him  to  alterations  which  he  probably 
would  not  have  countenanced  before  his  illness.  In  every 
case  where  Keats  changed  the  poem,  he  committed  a 
blunder,  something  very  unusual  with  him,  whose  correc- 
tions were,  almost  without  exception,  improvements.  We 
do  not  certainly  know  that  Hunt  was  the  instigator  of  the 
changes,  Woodhouse  may  have  had  a  hand  in  them  for,  in 
his  Commonplace  Book  where  the  original  is  copied  with 
only  the  slightest  of  differences  from  the  letter  version, 
there  is  a  pencil  note  —  written,  Buxton  Forman  thinks, 
by  Taylor  —  which  reads:  "Vide  Album  for  alterations." 
Some  of  Keats's  friends  must  have  had  the  good  sense  to 
prefer  the  poem  as  Keats  first  wrote  it,  however,  for  Lord 
Houghton  in  his  1848  edition  printed  it  as  Woodhouse  set 
it  down.  There  is  no  sort  of  doubt  that  the  best  version  is 
the  one  sent  in  the  letter  to  George,  and  happily  Professor 
de  S61incourt  gives  it  letter  perfect  in  his  editions.  It  is 
a  thousand  pities  that  the  Indicator  version  was  ever 
resurrected;  it  ruins  a  perfect  work  of  art. 

Immediately  after  La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci,  Keats 
copied  another  poem  into  his  interminable  letter.    This 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  229 

was  the  tripping  little  fragment  known  as  the  Song  of  the 
Four  Fairies ,  although  Keats  entitled  it  Chorus  of  Fairies. 
It  is  really  a  dialogue  between  Salamander,  the  spirit  of 
fire;  Zephyr,  the  spirit  of  air;  Dusketha,  the  spirit  of  earth; 
and  Breama,  the  spirit  of  water.  The  poem  has  some  agree- 
able conceits  in  it,  but  only  one  noteworthy  passage,  that  in 
which  Zephyr  begs  Breama  to 

1  "Come  with  me,  oer  tops  of  trees, 
To  my  fragrant  Pallaces, 
Where  they  ever  floating  are 
Beneath  the  cherish  of  a  Star 
Caird  vesper." 

At  the  end,  Keats  suddenly  departs  from  his  trochaic 
heptasyllables  to  break  into  a  series  of  irregularly  timed 
lines  based  upon  a  highly  variable  anapestic-iambic  pattern 
whose  four  stresses  alone  link  it  to  his  original  form.  The 
audacious  liberties  of  rhythm  in  which  Keats  indulges  here 
are  another  proof  of  his  longing  for  innovation,  and  the 
five  lines  in  which  he  plays  these  pranks  are  rhythmically 
quite  charming.  The  poem  ends  sharply  on  a  short  line  as 
though  the  poet  had  become  tired  of  it,  as  probably  he 
had.  Rossetti  pronounced  this  poem  as  "unworthy  of 
Keats  at  this  period,"  and  in  spite  of  the  rhythmical 
subtleties  of  the  last  lines,  which  no  poet  of  Rossetti's 
period  could  be  expected  to  relish,  I  imagine  few  people 
will  feel  called  upon  to  disagree  with  him. 

Nothing  is  more  curious  to  watch,  throughout  these  long 
letters,  than  the  complete  changes  of  interest  and  feeling 
which  Keats  underwent  from  day  to  day.  We  get  only  the 
barest  conception  of  his  personality  if  we  attempt  to  isolate 
these  gusts  of  thought  from  one  another  and  study  them  in 
a  series  of  unbroken  divisions.  During  this  last  week  of 
April,  Keats  was  enormously  occupied  with  poetry,  but  not 

1  Copied  from  a  holograph.  Author's  Collection.  This  holograph 
differs  slightly  from  both  the  version  in  the  letter  and  that  printed  by  Lord 
Houghton. 


230  JOHN  KEATS 

so  much  so  as  to  exclude  other  intellectual  interests. 
Directly  after  breaking  off  with  the  unfinished  line  of  the 
Four  Fairies^  Keats  starts  abruptly  on  a  new  train  of 
thought.  So  radical  is  this  change  that  it  seems  as  if  this 
must  be  a  new  beginning  which  we  should  attribute  to 
Thursday,  April  twenty-ninth,  but  I  do  not  think  so,  I 
think  the  date  changed  earlier,  and  that  the  Four  Fairies 
began  the  Thursday  section.  For  what  does  his  sharp 
stopping  of  the  Fairies  mean  but  that  he  has  something 
else  which  he  very  much  wants  to  say.  Of  course,  I  may 
be  wrong  in  this;  it  does  not  matter  very  much  either  way. 
At  any  rate,  his  new  preoccupation  proved  a  very  sug- 
gestive one.  He  begins: 

"I  have  been  reading  lately  two  very  different  books, 
Robertson's  America  and  Voltaire's  Stecle  de  Louis  XIV. 
It  is  like  walking  arm  in  arm  between  Pizarro  and  the 
great-little  monarch." 

The  contemplation  of  the  state  of  the  populace  in  the  two 
countries  leads  him  on  to  a  series  of  reflections  that,  in  sum, 
reveal  the  type  of  philosophy  to  which  he  was  coming  to 
adhere  more  and  more.  This  whole  passage  is  as  near  to  a 
statement  of  a  creed  as  Keats  ever  formulated.  The  passage 
is  so  long  that  it  cannot  be  quoted  in  full,  but  in  paraphras- 
ing parts  of  it  I  have  been  careful  to  leave  out  nothing 
essential. 

His  argument  starts  from  the  following  premise  and  query: 

"The  whole  appears  to  resolve  into  this  —  that  Man  is 
originally  a  poor  forked  creature  subject  to  the  same  mis- 
chances as  the  beasts  of  the  forest,  destined  to  hardships 
and  disquietude  of  some  kind  or  other.  If  he  improves  by 
degrees  his  bodily  accommodations  and  comforts  —  at 
each  stage,  at  each  ascent  there  are  waiting  for  him  a  fresh 
set  of  annoyances  —  he  is  mortal  and  there  is  still  a  heaven 
with  its  Stars  above  his  head.  The  most  interesting  ques- 
tion that  can  come  before  us  is,  How  far  by  the  persevering 
endeavors  of  a  seldom  appearing  Socrates  Mankind  may 
be  made  happy  — " 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  231 

Supposing  that,  could  it  be  effected,  perfect  happiness 
were  ever  attained  on  earth,  Keats  thinks  that  the  thought 
of  death  could  not  be  borne,  and  this  thought,  increasing  in 
intensity  with  the  years,  would  gather  such  an  accumula- 
tion of  misery  into  the  last  days  of  every  man  as  to  leave 
the  sum  total  much  what  it  is  now,  but  deprive  sorrow  of 
its  educational  value.  From  this,  he  deduces  a  complete 
ethical  system  in  this  wise: 

"The  common  cognomen  of  this  world  among  the  mis- 
guided and  superstitious  is  'a  vale  of  tears'  from  which  we 
are  to  be  redeemed  by  a  certain  arbitrary  interposition  of 
God  and  taken  to  Heaven.  What  a  little  circumscribed 
straightened  notion !  Call  the  world  if  you  please '  The  vale 
of  Soul-making.'  Then  you  will  find  out  the  use  of  the 
world  (I  am  speaking  now  in  the  highest  terms  for  human 
nature  admitting  it  to  be  immortal  which  I  will  here  take 
for  granted  for  the  purpose  of  showing  a  thought  which  has 
struck  me  concerning  it)  I  say  'Soul-making'  —  Soul  as 
distinguished  from  an  Intelligence.  There  may  be  intelli- 
gences or  sparks  of  the  divinity  in  millions  —  but  they  are 
not  Souls  till  they  acquire  identities,  till  each  one  is 
personally  itself.  Intelligences  are  atoms  of  perception  — 
they  know  and  they  see  and  they  are  pure,  in  short  they 
are  God." 

Postulating  thus,  he  proceeds  to  propound  his  query  and 
answer  it  as  follows: 

"How  then  are  Souls  to  be  made?  How  then  are  these 
sparks  which  are  God  to  have  identity  given  them  —  so  as 
ever  to  possess  a  bliss  peculiar  to  each  one's  individual 
existence?  How  but  by  the  medium  of  a  world  like  this? 
This  point  I  sincerely  wish  to  consider  because  I  think  it  a 
grander  system  of  salvation  than  the  Christian  religion  — 
or  rather  it  is  a  system  of  Spirit  creation." 

He  finds  this  system  to  be  "effected  by  three  grand 
materials  acting  the  one  upon  the  other  for  a  series  of 
years."  These  materials  are  "  the  Intelligence  —  the 


232  JOHN  KEATS 

human  heart  (as  distinguished  from  intelligence  or  Mind) 
and  the  World  or  Elemental  space"  Putting  this,  as  he 
says,  "in  the  most  homely  form  possible,"  he  goes  on: 

"  I  will  call  the  world  a  School  instituted  for  the  purpose 
of  teaching  little  children  to  read  —  I  will  call  the  human 
heart  the  horn  Book  read  in  that  School  —  and  I  will  call 
the  Child  able  to  read,  the  Soul  made  from  that  School  and  its 
horn  book.  Do  you  not  see  how  necessary  a  World  of  Pains 
and  troubles  is  to  school  an  Intelligence  and  make  it  a 
Soul?  .  .  .  Not  merely  is  the  Heart  a  Hornbook,  It  is  the 
Mind's  Bible,  it  is  the  Mind's  experience,  it  is  the  text 
from  which  the  Mind  or  Intelligence  sucks  its  identity.  As 
various  as  the  Lives  of  Men  are  —  so  various  become  their 
Souls,  and  thus  does  God  make  individual  beings,  Souls, 
Identical  Souls  of  the  sparks  of  his  own  essence/' 

There  is  nothing  particularly  new  in  all  this,  be  it  ad- 
mitted. The  curious  thing  about  it  is  that  Keats  should 
have  worked  it  out  for  himself,  living  as  he  did  among  men 
who  were  quite  contented  with  the  orthodox  teaching  of 
the  Church  of  England.  Hunt  and  Shelley  were  the  ex- 
ceptions to  this  rule  in  the  circle  of  Keats's  friends,  and 
neither  man's  religious  opinions  weighed  a  feather  with 
him.  So  far  as  we  know,  Keats  was  not  in  the  habit  of 
reading  philosophy,  or  delving  into  the  mysteries  of 
ancient  religions,  and  there  is  no  evidence  to  show  that  he 
had  ever  read  Swedenborg,  D'Holbach,  Herder,  or  any  of 
the  thinkers  who  flooded  the  eighteenth  century  with 
novel  theological  doctrines,  constructive  or  destructive. 
The  point  of  view  at  which  he  had  arrived  seems  to  have 
been  spun  out  of  his  own  entrails,  if  I  may  use  such  an 
expression.  It  came  from  more  than  his  heart,  more  than 
his  mind,  it  sprang  from  the  very  mid-most  of  his  being.  It 
was  the  fine  thread  drawn  from  his  ever  strengthening  ego. 

His  conclusions,  when  he  reached  them,  were  —  for  his 
surroundings,  place,  and  moment  —  nothing  short  of  sub- 
versive. They  are: 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  233 

"This  appears  to  me  a  faint  sketch  of  a  system  of 
Salvation  which  does  not  offend  our  reason  and  humanity 
—  I  am  convinced  that  many  difficulties  which  Christians 
labour  under  would  vanish  before  it." 

And  after  suggesting  that  Christianity  may  be  derived 
from  older  religions,  he  dares  a  most  heterodox  theory,  to 
wit: 

"Why  may  they  not  have  made  this  simple  thing  even 
more  simple  for  common  apprehension  by  introducing 
Mediators  and  Personages  in  the  same  manner  as  in  the 
heathen  mythology  abstractions  are  personified?  .  . .  For 
as  one  part  of  the  human  species  must  have  their  carved 
Jupiter;  so  another  part  must  have  the  palpable  and 
named  Mediator  and  Saviour,  their  Christ,  their  Oromanes 
and  their  Vishnu." 

Keats  had  evidently  read  more  along  the  lines  of 
comparative  religions  than  we  are  aware  of,  but  in  his  case 
a  hint  was  enough  to  start  him  exploring  the  spheres.  It 
was  not  only  in  poetry  that  he  was  an  experimenter;  in 
thought  also  he  was  not  content  with  barriers.  Where  his 
probing  insight  would  have  carried  him  had  he  lived,  it  is 
impossible  to  say.  Already  he  was  far  beyond  the  bounds 
which  confined  his  friends. 

The  next  date  in  the  letter  is  "Friday —  April  30—" 
and  Keats  at  once  begins: 

"  Brown  has  been  here  rummaging  up  some  of  my  old 
sins  —  that  is  to  say  sonnets.  I  do  not  think  you  remember 
them  so  I  will  copy  them  out  as  well  as  two  or  three  lately 
written.  I  have  just  written  one  on  Fame  —  which  Brown 
is  transcribing  and  he  has  his  book  and  mine.  I  must 
employ  myself  perhaps  in  a  sonnet  on  the  same  subject  — " 

Here  follows  one  of  the  two  sonnets  on  Fame,  this  one 
evidently  improvised  at  the  very  moment  of  writing.  It  is 
not  a  good  sonnet,  and  Keats  got  into  a  little  trouble  with 
the  sestet.  Writing  in  the  Shakespearian  mode,  his  sestet 


234  JOHN  KEATS 

should  have  consisted  of  a  quatrain  and  a  couplet;  but  here 
Keats,  having  written  the  first  three  lines  in  what  was 
evidently  intended  to  be  quatrain  form,  suddenly  brings  in 
a  new  rhyme  for  his  fourth  line,  rhymes  his  fifth  with  it, 
and  forces  his  sixth  to  hark  back  to  the  second  for  its  echo. 
This,  I  am  sure,  is  no  experimental  effort,  but  a  pure  case 
of  being  stuck  and  getting  out  as  best  he  can.  The  reason 
why  I  am  convinced  of  this  is  that  the  second  line  originally 
ended  with  the  word  "taste,"  but  when  the  fourth  line 
with  which  it  should  rhyme  was  reached,  the  general  sound 
of  "taste"  tricked  him  into  the  false  rhyme  "space." 
Perceiving  his  error  almost  immediately,  and  unable  to  find 
an  appropriate  word  for  his  "grateful  bees"  which  would 
rhyme  with  "space,"  realizing  also  that  his  "Undisturbed 
Lake  has  crystal  space"  was  too  good  a  line  to  lose,  he  gave 
up  the  quatrain  form  and  put  "feed"  at  the  end  of  the 
second  line.  Another  good  line  gave  him  the  needed  rhyme 
for  "space,"  and  forgetting  for  a  moment  the  order  of  his 
rhymes,  he  finished  with  another  nice  line:  "And  spoil  our 
pleasures  in  his  selfish  fire."  Soon,  however,  seeing  that  he 
had  left  "feed"  no  companion,  he  scratched  out  his  sixth 
line  entirely  and  substituted  the  extremely  weak  "Spoilt 
his  salvation  by  a  fierce  miscreed." 

The  second  sonnet  on  Fame1  is  better  technically,  yet 
it  is  a  singularly  dull  poem,  and  the  semi-cynical,  semi- 
jocose,  tone  of  it  is  not  alluring.  The  first  line  is  an  al- 
most exact  "steal"  from  Dryden,  where  in  the  Epilogue  to 
the  first  part  of  the  Conquest  of  Grenada  is  a  passage  be- 
ginning: 

"Fame,  like  a  little  Mistress  of  the  Town.M  2 
This  passage  is,  in  idea,  an  almost  perfect  duplicate  to 

1  These  sonnets  are  printed  in  inverse  order  in  all  editions  of  Keats's 
poems.  I  deal  with  them  here  as  they  appear  in  the  letter. 

1  This  parallel  was  pointed  out  in  a  recent  letter  to  the  Times  Literary 
Supplement  by  E.  H.  W.  Meyerstein. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  235 

Keats's  sonnet.  The  fact  that,  two  months  later,  Keats  was 
writing  Lamia  —  a  poem  which  shows  clearly  the  influ- 
ence of  Dryden's  versification  —  makes  Keats's  obvious 
theft  here  not  a  little  important,  for  it  seems  to  prove  that 
he  was  reading  Dryden  with  some  intentness  during  the 
Spring,  although  he  says  nothing  about  it.  Keats's  in- 
debtedness to  Dryden  in  this  sonnet  seems  to  have  escaped 
Sir  Sidney  Colvin's  notice,  but,  because  of  it,  the  passage 
he  quotes  from  Brown's  Britannia  5  Pastorals  seems 
superfluous. 

There  is  a  third  sonnet  in  this  group  of  which  Keats  says 
nothing,  and  we  may  reasonably  assume  it  to  be  one  of  the 
exhumed  "sins."  It  is  entitled  To  Sleep,  and  would  have 
been  an  excellent  sonnet  had  it  ever  been  revised,  a  good 
sonnet  and  something  of  an  experiment,  for  while  the 
octave  consists  of  two  quatrains  in  the  regular  Shake- 
spearian manner,  the  sestet  rhymes  (does  not,  as  a  matter 
of  fact,  but  was  certainly  meant  to)  in  rather  an  odd  way. 
The  first  line  of  it  echoes  the  second  and  fourth  lines  of  the 
octave,  the  second  line  follows  the  fifth  and  seventh  of  the 
octave,  the  last  lines  form  a  quatrain.  As  a  matter  of  fact, 
in  this  quatrain  Keats  rhymed  "lord"  and  "wards,"  which 
was  clearly  an  oversight.  In  the  transcript  of  the  sonnet 
made  by  Woodhouse, "  hoards  "  is  written  instead  of  "  lord," 
but  Lord  Hough  ton  printed  the  word  as  "lords."  Readers 
may  take  their  pick  of  the  two  versions;  which  Keats  really 
meant,  we  cannot  know. 

How  much  before  this  thirtieth  of  April  Keats  wrote 
To  S/eepy  it  is  impossible  to  tell,  but  by  the  evidence  of 
style  and  experimentation  I  feel  sure  it  was  quite  a  recent 
performance.  It  was,  we  know,  written  in  1819,  for  Wood- 
house  so  dates  it.  That  this  strangely  patterned  sestet  was 
intentional,  there  can  be  no  manner  of  doubt.  Keats  was 
not  in  love  with  the  couplet  ending  of  the  Shakespearian 
sonnet.  He  had  sought  to  relieve  its  monotony  in  As 
Hermes  once  took  to  his  feathers  light  by  making  the  last  line 


236  JOHN  KEATS 

an  alexandrine;  here  he  tried  to  break  it  up  entirely.  This 
desire  to  introduce  something  new  and  different  into  a 
traditional  form  places  the  sonnet  definitely  as  belonging 
to  this  Spring.  That  hard-working,  but  very  unpoetical, 
person,  Buxton  Forman,  was  much  mystified  by 

4 'Then  save  me  or  the  passed  day  will  shine 
Upon  my  pillow  breeding  many  woes/1 

He  wished  "tressed"  substituted  for  "passed"  on  the 
strength  of  a  most  inferior  and  fragmentary  version  in  the 
copy  of  Paradise  Lost  given  to  Mrs.  Dilke,  and  published 
in  the  Athenaum  in  1872.  This  version  is  so  unutterably 
bad,  besides  being  unfinished,  that  I  am  very  sure  it  repre- 
sents an  early,  abandoned  attempt.  The  difficult  lines  are 
really  as  plain  as  day.  Any  one  who  has  suffered  from  in- 
somnia will  attest  their  absolute  truth,  for  who,  lying  awake 
at  night,  has  not  found  the  events  of  the  day  before  full  of 
thorns  to  prick  his  sensitive  midnight  consciousness  withal. 
To  Sleep  is  not  an  end  to  the  poetry  in  the  letter;  not  at 
all.  Keats  succeeds  it  with  a  preface  to  another  poem,  the 
Ode  to  Psyche.  This,  the  first  of  his  completed  odes,1  he 
introduces  to  George  and  Georgiana  in  these  words: 

"The  following  Poem  —  the  last  I  have  written  —  is  the 
first  and  the  only  one  with  which  I  have  taken  even 
moderate  pains.  I  have  for  the  most  part  dash'd  off  my 
lines  in  a  hurry.  This  I  have  done  leisurely  —  I  think  it 
reads  the  more  richly  for  it,  and  will  I  hope  encourage  me 
to  write  other  things  in  even  a  more  peaceable  and  healthy 
spirit." 

At  last  Keats  had  struck  a  direction  which  he  could 
follow,  happy  in  the  conviction  that  he  had  found  at  least 
one  medium  perfectly  fitted  to  his  genius.  He  had  already 
made  a  shot  at  it,  in  the  fragment  of  the  Ode  to  Maia 
written  the  year  before  at  Teignmouth,  but  that  poem  he 
had  been  forced  to  leave  in  all  its  glorious  incompleteness, 

1  The  juvenile  Ode  to  Apollo  and  the  Ode  to  Fanny  do  not  properly 
belong  in  this  category. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  237 

the  mood  which  produced  it  had  never  returned.  Nor  had 
it  returned  now,  but  something  akin  to  it  in  attitude  had 
come,  and  this  something  he  had  brought  to  a  finish. 

I  am  quite  in  accord  with  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  in  believing 
the  Psyche  to  be  the  first  of  Keats's  great  odes  in  point  of 
time.  Does  not  he  himself  tell  us  so  plainly  when  he  declares 
this  the  only  poem  lately  written  with  which  he  has  taken 
pains?  Could  he  have  said  as  much  had  he  already  written 
the  Grecian  Urn  or  the  Ode  on  Melancholy ,  and  is  it  at  all 
likely  that  if  he  had  written  these  poems  he  would  not  have 
copied  them  into  this  letter  to  George?  The  Ode  on  Indo- 
lence clearly  pronounces  itself  as  composed  later,  as  we 
shall  see,  and  we  know  the  Nightingale  to  have  been  written 
in  May.  There  are  other  reasons  for  assigning  to  the 
Psyche  the  initial  place  among  the  odes;  first  and  foremost, 
its  distinct  resemblance  to  the  manner  of  /  Stood  Tip-toe 
in  the  first  stanza,  then  the  various  harkings-back  to  some 
of  his  old  preoccupations  —  the  mountain  pine,1  for 
instance,  while  the  "dark  clustered  trees"  that  "Fledged 
the  wild-ridged  mountains  steep  by  steep,"2  clearly  points 
to  his  re-reading  of  his  letters  from  Scotland.  Palmerin 
crops  up  here,  too,  in  the  line: 

"Nor  virgin  choir  to  make  delicious  moan," 

and  again 

"O  let  me  be  thy  choir  and  make  a  moan." 

Professor  de  Selincourt  has  remarked  that  a  phrase  from 
each  of  the  three  important  odes  of  this  period,  the  Grecian 
Urn,  the  Ode  on  Melancholy,  and  the  Nightingale,  is  re- 
peated, or  nearly  so,  in  the  Psyche,  and  begs  us  to  notice 
how,  by  this  means,  Keats  "knits  them  all  together."  I 
cannot  subscribe  to  Professor  de  S61incourt's  deduction; 
rather  I  believe  that  Keats  used  his  Psyche  as  a  quarry,  and 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  148.  2  See  Vol.  II,  p.  31. 


238  JOHN  KEATS 

took  the  lines  in  question  from  it  to  put  them  into  succeed- 
ing poems  which  he  knew  to  be  far  better. 

There  is  much  of  the  younger  Keats  in  this  ode.  "  Tender 
eye-dawn  of  aurorean  love,"  "fond  believing  lyre,"  "soft 
delight,"  these  are  the  sort  of  expressions  we  find  in  his 
work  of  1816,  but  which  he  had  for  the  most  part  out- 
grown at  this  time.  He  is  not  betrayed  into  anything  of 
the  sort  in  his  other  odes.  In  fine,  there  is  much  beauty  in 
the  Psyche,  and  not  a  little  weakness.  Keats  says  that  he 
took  pains  with  the  poem,  but  the  pains  were  evidently  not 
as  rigorously  employed  as  they  might  have  been.  There 
are  two  unrhymed  lines  in  the  published  version,  a  slight 
blemish,  but  still  a  blemish  where  the  pattern  is  a  fully 
rhymed  one.  It  is  only  fair  to  say,  however,  that  in  one  of 
these  cases  the  rhyme  was  originally  there,  but  disap- 
peared in  revision.  In  all  probability,  Keats  did  not  revise 
the  poem  until  he  was  preparing  the  Lamia  volume  for  pub- 
lication, and  at  that  time  he  was  weary  with  illness  and 
not  his  keenly  perceptive  self,  although  dropping  rhymes 
by  accident  during  the  work  of  correction  was  all  too  com- 
mon with  him,  as  witness  Endymion.  It  is  instructive  to 
note  that  those  corrections  done  after  his  illness  in  1820 
are  not  so  certainly  wise  as  were  his  earlier  ones.  We  have 
seen  how  he  marred  La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci\  in  this  ode, 
he  changed  the  delightful  expression  "freckle-pink"  for 
flowers  to  the  commonplace  "silver-white."  A  final  reason 
for  giving  to  the  Psyche  the  position  of  pioneer  is  that  Keats 
does  not  seem  to  have  quite  settled  into  his  stride  when  he 
wrote  it,  to  have  quite  made  up  his  mind  what  the  particu- 
lar form  of  this  type  of  poem  was  to  be.  Later  he  crystallized 
his  odes  into  a  definite  structure  which  he  varied  only  in 
detail.  This  structure  consisted  principally  of  stanzas  with 
an  equal  number  of  lines,  the  number  being  ten  in  all  the 
odes  except  To  Autumn,  to  which  he  permitted  eleven. 

After  the  Ode  to  Psyche  in  the  letter,  Keats  wrote: 

11  Here  endethe  y*  Ode  to  Psyche." 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  239 

and  at  once,  as  a  sort  of  fresh  heading,  he  put  in  Latin: 
"Incipit  altera  Sonneta." 

I  have  spoken  many  times  of  the  passion  for  experiment 
which  seems  to  have  dominated  Keats  all  this  Spring,  and 
following  this,  his  longing  to  alter  the  form  of  the  sestets 
of  his  sonnets.  Now,  suddenly,  he  flares  out  in  the  un- 
accustomed r&le  of  iconoclast.  The  conventional  sonnet, 
which  he  wrote  superlatively  well  in  both  forms,  no  longer 
contented  him;  yet  he  wanted  some  sort  of  a  sonnet,  and 
forthwith  proceeded  to  invent  an  entirely  new  one.  The 
why  of  his  doing  so  he  explained  to  George: 

"  I  have  been  endeavouring  to  discover  a  better  Sonnet 
Stanza  than  we  have.  The  legitimate1  does  not  suit  the 
language  over  well  from  the  pouncing  rhymes  —  the  other 
appears  too  elegiac  —  and  the  couplet  at  the  end  of  it  has 
seldom  a  pleasing  effect  —  I  do  not  pretend  to  have  suc- 
ceeded —  it  will  explain  itself." 

The  sonnet  follows: 

2  "If  by  dull  rhymes  our  English  must  be  chain'd, 
And,  like  Andromeda,  the  Sonnet  sweet 
Fetter'd,  in  spite  of  pained  loveliness, 
Let  us  find  out,  if  we  must  be  constraint, 
Sandals  more  interwoven  and  complete 
To  fit  the  naked  foot  of  Poesy: 
Let  us  inspect  the  Lyre,  and  weigh  the  stress 
Of  every  chord,  and  see  what  may  be  gain'd 
By  ear  industrious,  and  attention  meet; 
Misers  of  sound  and  syllable,  no  less 
Than  Midas  of  his  coinage,  let  us  be 
Jealous  of  dead  leaves  in  the  bay  wreath  crown; 
So,  if  we  may  not  let  the  Muse  be  free, 
She  will  be  bound  with  garlands  of  her  own." 

1  Petrarchan. 

2  In  the  letter,  the  sonnet  does  not  go  beyond  the  fourth  line.   It  is 
quoted  here  from  a  version  written  in  Sir  Charles  Dilke's  copy  of  Endymion. 
Buxton  Forman. 


24o  JOHN  KEATS 

This  is  obviously  merely  a  study  for  a  rhyme-scheme,  and 
this  scheme  is  so  interwoven  and  complicated  that  I  will 
supplement  the  poem  by  giving  it.  It  runs:  A.B.C.A.B.D. 
C.A.B.C.D.E.D.E.  The  fourteen  lines  are  preserved,  but 
everything  else  is  new,  even  the  break  at  the  end  of  the 
octave  which  relieved  the  monotony  of  the  Petrarchan 
sonnet  and  gave  a  tilt  to  the  subject  that  started  the  sestet 
with  a  new  zest,  is  gone;  and  the  somewhat  same  effect 
got  by  the  quatrains  and  final  couplet  of  the  Shakespearian 
form  is  to  seek.  This  makes  Keats's  sonnet  a  bit  monoto- 
nous. He  has  effectively  done  away  with  the  "pouncing 
rhymes,"  but  at  the  expense  of  losing  the  chime  of  rhyme- 
return  altogether.  It  is  gleefully  pointed  out  by  the  sticklers 
for  convention  that  Keats  never  wrote  another  sonnet 
after  this  recipe.  Perhaps  he  never  would  have  done  so; 
but  it  should  also  be  said  that  he  wrote  only  two  sonnets 
after  this,  and  both  of  them  were  highly  personal  and 
emotional  pieces  in  which  he  took  the  first  form  that  came 
to  his  hand,  being  in  no  mood  for  anything  save  to  pour 
out  the  feelings  in  his  heart.  If  he  stopped  experimenting 
in  sonnet  form,  he  did  not  stop  in  his  other  chief  form,  the 
ode.  Each  of  his  odes  was  an  experiment  within  a  pattern 
which  he  had  largely  found  for  himself.  When  we  realize 
that  a  bare  nine  months  comprised  the  whole  rest  of  his 
writing  life,  we  shall  not  be  so  sure  as  most  critics  profess 
themselves  to  be  as  to  what  he  would,  or  would  not,  have 
done  had  he  lived.  The  subject  of  this  experimental  sonnet 
is  of  itself  sufficient  to  prove  how  much  he  desired  to  escape 
from  the  strait-jacket  of  tradition,  to  prune  all  semblance 
of  "dead  leaves"  from  his  own  fresh  luxuriance.  Yet 
we  must  not  fail  to  observe  that  it  is  his  ear  principally 
which  is  unsatisfied,  it  is  a  new  music  that  he  craves. 
In  the  matter  of  poetic  "music,"  Keats  has  had  few 
equals. 

Keats  closed  his  long  letter  to  George  with  this  little 
paragraph: 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  241 

"This  is  the  third  of  May,  and  everything  is  in  delightful 
forwardness;  the  violets  are  not  withered  before  the  peeping 
of  the  first  rose." 

It  is  quite  evident  that,  from  the  middle  of  April  until 
the  middle  of  May,  Keats  was  really  happy.  These  were 
the  last  weeks  of  his  life  when  he  can  be  said  to  have  been 
so.  Cruel  as  fate  had  been  to  him  hitherto,  its  extreme  of 
cruelty  was  to  come.  At  the  moment,  he  was  enjoying  a 
peaceful  and  fruitful  interlude.  The  writing  fever  was  by 
no  means  assuaged  by  the  poems  sent  to  George;  on  the 
contrary,  it  was  only  just  begun.  To  May,  belong  the  four 
remaining  odes  known  to  have  been  written  at  Hampstead. 
Their  dates  are  problematical,  but  from  internal  and  ex- 
ternal evidence  I  believe  their  order  to  be:  the  Grecian  Urn 
first;  then  the  Ode  on  Melancholy,  after  that,  the  Nightin- 
gale \  and  finally  the  Ode  on  Indolence. 

The  first  thing  to  be  noted  about  the  Grecian  Urn  is  that 
the  inspiration  for  it  came  from  the  Elgin  Marbles,  from 
that  part  of  the  frieze  of  the  Parthenon  which  shows  the 
cattle  being  brought  to  the  sacrifice.  No  urn  had  any- 
thing to  do  with  it,  but  the  reason  for  the  urn  in  the  title 
is  not  hard  to  discover.  By  far  the  greater  part  of  the 
Parthenon  frieze  is  taken  up  with  cavalcades  of  men  on 
horses  or  driving  chariots,  and  it  is  precisely  these  parts 
which  most  people  think  of  when  the  frieze  is  mentioned. 
Also,  in  Keats's  day,  the  frieze  was  commonly  spoken  of  as 
the  Elgin  Marbles.  If  Keats  had  called  his  poem  Ode  on  the 
Elgin  Marbles,  not  only  would  the  title  have  been  an  ugly 
one,  it  would  have  been  a  misleading  and  confusing  one  as 
well.  For  where  in  his  poem  were  the  cavalcades  of  horses, 
and  the  fine  virile  youths  astride  of  them  ?  The  attention 
of  most  readers  would  have  been  taken  up  in  seeking  for 
these,  and  only  on  a  second  reading  would  the  poem  have 
been  fully  apprehended.  Yet  it  was  imperative  that  the 
idea  of  Greece  should  be  given  at  the  outset,  Greek  sculp- 


242  JOHN  KEATS 

ture  must  somehow  be  implied.  Keats  had  seen  Grecian 
urns  in  fact  and  picture,  and  the  word  "urn"  is  an  attrac- 
tive one  and  full  of  artistic  significance.  With  the  idea  of 
attributing  his  bas-relief  to  an  imaginary  urn,  the  difficulty 
was  solved,  and  the  poem  forthwith  became  Ode  on  a 
Grecian  Urn. 

No  poem  of  Keats's  has  had  its  origins  more  diligently 
sought  for  than  the  Grecian  Urn.  But  in  this  case  such 
searching  seems  peculiarly  unnecessary.  Keats  had  spent 
two  years  intermittently  gazing  at  the  Elgin  Marbles, 
he  had  pored  again  and  again  over  volumes  of  drawings 
from  the  antique  in  Haydon's  studio,  he  had  read  Gold- 
smith's History  of  Greece  at  Haydon's  instigation,  and  he 
had  done  all  this  with  an  attention  and  imagination  ever 
on  the  alert.  How  keen  was  his  interest  in  these  things 
may  be  seen  by  the  fact  that  a  tracing  from  a  plate  of 
the  so-called  Sosibos  vase,  made  by  him,  was  discovered 
in  the  Dilke  Collection.1  (The  book  in  which  he  found  the 
plate  was  the  Musee  Napoleon,  a  work  descriptive  of 
the  classic  spoils  filched  by  the  conquering  Napoleon  and 
brought  to  Paris.  The  text  of  these  four  monumental  vol- 
umes was  illustrated  by  outline  engravings.)  With  various 
of  Claude  Lorraine's  pseudo-classic  pictures,  he  was  also 
familiar;  and  in  his  visits  to  the  British  Museum  he  had 
not  spent  all  his  time  with  the  Elgin  Marbles,  there  was, 
as  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  points  out,  the  Townley  collection, 
and  others  as  well.  Granted  all  these  things,  they  are  the 
merest  spark  of  a  match  to  flash  the  eager  fire  of  his  im- 
agination. In  no  other  poem  that  Keats  wrote  do  we  see 
his  imagination  more  actively  at  work,  or  more  perfectly 
master  of  its  own  expression.  The  poem  is  well-nigh  flaw- 
less from  beginning  to  end.  It  is  a  picture,  an  experience, 
and  a  creed,  all  in  one.  It  is  the  world  without  and  the 
world  within.  The  "delightful  forwardness"  of  the  season 
is  quite  as  much  of  a  "  source  "  as  any  of  those  we  have  been 

1  Colvin. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  243 

considering.  The  "happy,  happy  boughs,"  the  "more 
happy,  happy  love,"  were  with  him  daily,  as  was  also  the 
consciousness  that  these  things  do  not  last  forever.  Where 
else  does  his  imagination  give  us  a  picture  with  such  econ- 
omy of  detail  as  in  his  lines  about  the  little  town?  What  a 
lightning  stroke  of  genius  to  depict  it  only  to  empty  it, 
leaving  it  solitary  in  the  morning  sun,  and,  by  a  swift 
transition  from  gay  to  grave,  evoking  its  eternal  desola- 
tion. Gay  and  grave,  that  is  it  —  Keats  tuned  to  his  high- 
est pitch  of  evocative  creation,  burning  with  so  clear  and 
white  an  emotion  that  all  his  senses,  all  his  thoughts  and 
beliefs,  fuse  together  into  a  presentation  which  is  at  once 
firm  and  infinitely  moving,  just,  but  wistfully  disillusioned, 
cordially  frank,  yet  very  nearly  perfectly  concealed.  The 
poem  is  a  magnificent  example  of  joy  through  resignation, 
for  Keats  had  looked  with  ecstasy  and  anguish  at  life,  at 
love,  at  art,  and  had  learnt  to  submit  to  immutable  law, 
to  grant  the  necessity  of  his  school  of  Soul-making,  per- 
chance, indeed,  to  find  it  good.  Even  if  he  had  never  heard 
of  it,  he  had  accepted  Leonardo  da  Vinci's  phrase: 

"Cosa  bella  mortal  passa  e  non  d'arte." 

I  think  that  when  Keats  wrote  the  Grecian  Urn  he  was 
at  the  very  zenith  of  his  development,  more  entirely  single, 
whole,  and  undivided,  more  completely  master  of  his 
qualities,  all  of  them,  than  ever  before  or  ever  again.  Not 
that  he  did  not  write  superb  poetry  after  this,  but  that  his 
later  work  was  produced  in  conflict,  the  conflict  of  his 
genius  warring  against  outward  conditions.  He  transcended 
them  by  the  very  act  of  composition,  yet  in  doing  so  was 
forced  to  leave  his  everyday  self  behind.  The  perfection 
of  the  Grecian  Urn  sprang  from  just  the  fact  that  it  was 
written  by  all  his  many  selves  working  together  in  the 
complete  harmony  of  absolute  concord. 

What  happened  to  alter  his  mood,  we  shall  never  know. 
Keats,  being  himself,  was  always  more  or  less  prone  to  a 


244  JOHN  KEATS 

consciousness  of  the  reverse  of  any  happiness.  There  is  a 
tale  of  ancient  China  wherein  is  described  a  mirror  on  the 
back  of  which  was  carved  an  image  of  a  crane,  the  emblem 
of  age  and  fate.  This  mirror  was  fashioned  in  such  a  man- 
ner that  any  one  looking  into  it  would  see,  not  only  his  own 
face,  but  the  shadow  of  the  bird  behind  hovering  dimly 
like  an  omen.  Keats's  joys  too  often  presented  themselves 
to  him  clouded  by  the  shadow  of  a  brooding  fate.  Possibly 
the  month-long  solace  of  a  comprehending  unity  of  ideas 
with  Fanny  Brawne  had  been  marred  by  some  incident  or 
word.  Certain  it  is  that,  whatever  the  reason,  Keats's 
placidity  broke  down,  not  enough  to  debar  him  from  writ- 
ing, but  sufficiently  to  strike  a  sharp  note  of  bitterness 
through  his  work. 

The  order  of  the  next  three  odes  is  by  no  means  positive, 
and  I  do  not  offer  it  as  such.  I  adopt  the  order  I  follow 
merely  on  account  of  probabilities,  because  it  seems  to  fit 
best  with  the  facts  as  we  know  them.  From  the  third  until 
the  thirteenth  of  May  there  are  no  letters;  from  that  time 
until  the  end  of  the  month  there  are  two  to  his  sister 
Fanny,  but  they  contain  nothing  pertinent.1  On  the  ninth 
of  June,  he  wrote  to  Miss  Jeffrey  that  he  had  been  "very 
idle  lately,"  and  a  letter  to  the  same  lady  on  the  thirty- 
first  of  May  shows  him  in  the  sad  mood  which  marks  all 
these  odes.  It  seems  to  me  that  this  sadness  ran  a  definite 
course,  beginning  with  irony  and  violence,  changing  gradu- 
ally to  a  passive  melancholy,  and  ending  with  exhaustion. 
In  that  belief,  I  have  determined  the  order  in  which  I  deal 
with  the  odes.  Of  course,  I  may  be  wrong. 

Perhaps  to  speak  of  the  Ode  on  Melancholy  as  being 
written  in  a  mood  of  irony  and  violence  may  seem  a  bit 
extreme,  particularly  as  the  one  really  violent  stanza,  that 
which  originally  began  the  poem,  was  rejected  in  favour 
of  the  present  opening.  This  is  a  subdued  violence,  no 
doubt,  but  violence  nevertheless.  Seek  not  for  melancholy 
in  melancholy  things,  cries  the  poet.  If  sorrow  craves 

1  There  is  also  a  short  note  to  Haslam  telling  of  the  receipt  of  a  letter 
from  Georee. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  245 

company,  it  is  not  in  the  contemplation  of  sad  things  that 
it  will  find  it.  No  indeed,  the  grand  paradox,  the  profound 
irony,  of  grief  is  to  know  itself  partnered  always  with  those 
very  objects  most  proper  to  give  pleasure.  There  is  more 
misery  for  the  unhappy  in  a  rose,  the  iridescent  hues  of  a 
wave  breaking  on  shingle,  a  mass  of  full-blown  peonies, 
than  in  all  the  traditionally  sorrowful  things  that  imagina- 
tion can  summon.  Grief  abides  forever  in  beauty  to  the 
sentient  man,  that  is  the  theme  of  the  poem.  It  is  the 
direct  antithesis  of  Keats's  attitude  in  the  Grecian  Urn> 
where  the  realization  of  the  eternal  quality  of  art  binds  and 
heals  the  bitter  wounds  incident  upon  mere  living. 
Irony  and  pain  are  in  these  lines: 

"Or  if  thy  mistress  some  rich  anger  shows, 
Emprison  her  soft  hand,  and  let  her  rave, 
And  feed  deep,  deep  upon  her  peerless  eyes." 

Such  behaviour  could  only  be  possible  to  the  shallow  and 
disillusioned,  as  Keats  knew  right  well.  Such  counsel  to 
himself  was  the  height  of  sarcasm,  rending  the  heart  from 
which  it  sprang.  For  the  lady  herself  is  mortal,  and  like  all 
mortals  must  die.  The  thought  of  love  is  inextricably 
woven  with  the  thought  of  death,  and  no  wave  of  the 
eternal  peace  forever  enshrouding  the  calm  majesty  of 
great  art  can  touch  his  feverish  resistance  to  the  savage 
cruelty  of  this  knowledge.  Utterly  vanished  and  gone  is 
the  chastened  admission  of  the  universe  which  produced 
the  Grecian  Urn  and  filled  it  with  delicate,  sober,  and  satis- 
fying beauty. 

The  third,  and  final,  stanza  of  the  Ode  on  Melancholy  is 
an  almost  angry  denial  of  the  attitude  taken  in  stanzas 
three  and  five  of  the  Grecian  Urn.  This  positive  answer  to 
the  stand  taken  in  these  stanzas  of  the  Grecian  Urn  seems 
so  evidently  intentional  that  it  is  largely  upon  it  that  I  base 
my  belief  in  the  priority  of  that  poem.  To  make  my  point 
clear,  I  will  quote  the  stanza  in  question: 


246  JOHN  KEATS 

"She  dwells  with  Beauty  —  Beauty  that  must  die; 

And  Joy,  whose  hand  is  ever  at  his  lips 
Bidding  adieu;  and  aching  Pleasure  nigh, 

Turning  to  poison  while  the  bee-mouth  sips: 
Ay,  in  the  very  temple  of  Delight 

Veil'd  Melancholy  has  her  sovran  shrine, 

Though  seen  of  none  save  him  whose  strenuous  tongue 

Can  burst  Joy's  grape  against  his  palate  fine; 
His  soul  shall  taste  the  sadness  of  her  might, 
And  be  among  her  cloudy  trophies  hung." 

The  Ode  on  Melancholy  seems  so  little  literary  and  so 
markedly  autobiographical  that  I  find  the  suggestions  as 
to  its  possible  origins  very  much  out  of  place.  Suppose 
that  Keats  had  been  feeding  his  wounded  sensibilities  on 
the  splendid  brutalities  of  Burton's  Anatomy  of  Me/an- 
choly,  postulates  and  illustrative  anecdotes  of  the  Burton 
type  may  easily  have  chimed  with  certain  moods,  but 
scarcely  with  the  one  embodied  here.  Granted  that  Keats 
was  familiar  with  Fletcher's  Nice  Valour,  and  its  lines 
lauding  melancholy  and  calling  it  by  the  fond  name  of 
"sweetest  melancholy,"  does  anything  in  Keats's  ode  re- 
semble them?  I  think  not.  Let  us,  then,  seek  no  farther 
for  the  source  of  the  poem  than  a  state  of  mind  with  which 
we,  who  have  followed  Keats  for  so  long  with  a  minute 
curiosity,  must  by  now  be  sufficiently  familiar.  Keats  did 
not  find  his  paradox  in  Burton,  Fletcher,  or  any  other  of 
his  forerunners,  but  in  the  amazed  and  disgusted  perusal 
of  his  own  heart. 

The  Ode  on  Melancholy  is  not  nearly  as  good  a  poem  as 
the  Grecian  Urn,  nor  should  we  expect  it  to  be  so  under  the 
circumstances.  If  his  sad  mood  were  not  strong  enough  to 
stop  his  writing  entirely,  it  was  at  least  strong  enough  to 
hamper  it.  Nevertheless  there  are  fine  lines  and  passages 
in  the  poem,  and  Keats  and  his  friends  were  abundantly 
right  to  publish  it  in  the  Lamia  volume.  The  wisdom  of 
including  the  Psyche,  on  the  other  hand,  is  decidedly  open 
to  question. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  247 

Supposing  my  theory  as  to  the  progress  and  duration 
of  Keats's  despondent  mood  to  be  correct,  there  is  nothing 
surprising  in  the  fact  that  his  next  ode,  the  Nightingale, 
should  be  among  his  most  perfect  poems.  He  was  still 
unhappy,  but  the  poignance  of  the  feeling  was  so  far 
blunted  as  to  leave  his  imagination  free  to  take  posses- 
sion of  his  faculties  for  a  space  and  do  with  them  what  it 
would. 

If  the  Grecian  Urn  is  a  practically  flawless  example  of 
clear,  unvexed,  wide-eyed  beauty,  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale 
is  a  no  less  perfect  presentation  of  absolute  magic,  a  magic 
shimmering  over  profound  depths  of  meaning  and  sensa- 
tion. The  overtones  in  the  Grecian  Urn  are  slight,  the  sur- 
face of  the  poem  has  an  unrippled  clarity  about  it  which 
needs  no  more  troubled  music,  no  undershining  reflections, 
to  enhance  its  effect.  The  Nightingale,  on  the  other  hand, 
is  strung  and  laced  with  strange,  fantastic  harmonies,  with 
dissonances  resolving  faintly  in  the  travelling  air;  it  is 
fraught  of  foam  and  glancing  shadows,  of  hints  of  mutabil- 
ity beyond  the  conscious  ken.  The  Grecian  Urn  touches  us 
to  delight  and  admiration;  the  Nightingale  stirs  our  hearts, 
grieves  and  satisfies  them,  and  lingers  on  as  a  half-remem- 
bered echo  of  ourselves.  The  whole  approach  to  the  two 
poems  is  entirely  different.  Matthew  Arnold,  in  his  essay 
On  the  Study  of  Celtic  Literature,  has  noted  this  difference 
of  approach  and  commented  upon  it.  The  "little  town" 
stanza  in  the  Grecian  Urn  he  calls  "as  Greek  as  a  thing 
from  Homer  or  Theocritus;  it  is  compared  with  the  eye  on 
the  object,  a  radiancy  and  light  clearness  being  added," 
and  again:  "Keats  passes  at  will  from  the  Greek  power  to 
that  power  which,  as  I  say,  is  Celtic;  from  his:  — 

'What  little  town  by  river  or  seashore'  — 


to  his:  — 


'White  hawthorn,  and  the  pastoral  eglantine; 
Fast  fading  violets  cover'd  up  in  leaves' 


248  JOHN  KEATS 

or  his:  — 

1 . . .  magic  casements,  opening  on  the  foam 
Of  perilous  seas,  in  faery  lands  forlorn  — ' 

in  which  the  very  same  note  is  struck  as  in  those  extracts 
which  I  quoted  from  Celtic  romance,  and  struck  with 
authentic  and  unmistakable  power." 

To  me,  this  "little  town"  stanza  is  not  so  much  Greek  as 
Japanese.  The  Greek  presentation  is  simple,  single,  clear, 
but  it  is  not  quite  this  simplicity  or  clarity.  What  this 
stanza  seems  to  me  to  resemble  most  closely  are  the  Japa- 
nese colour  prints  of  the  eighteenth  and  nineteenth  cen- 
turies. I  have  already  pointed  out  Keats's  likeness  in  cer- 
tain passages  to  these  prints,1  here  is  another  example. 
If  it  be  objected  that  Keats  knew  nothing  of  Japan  or 
Japanese  art,  let  it  be  remembered  that  neither  did  he 
know  anything  of  Greek  literature  in  the  original,  and  the 
translations  of  it  in  his  day  were  about  as  far  from  Greek 
in  feeling  as  can  be  imagined.  Keats's  poetic  instinct  was 
exceedingly  delicate  and  capable  of  apprehending  a  variety 
of  nuances.  It  was  no  effort  for  his  genius  to  go  from  the 
clear,  unornamented,  carefully  outlined  type  of  poetry 
represented  in  the  "little  town"  stanza  of  the  Grecian  Urn, 
to  the  richly  embroidered  and  fulminatingly  coloured  type 
of  the  Nightingale.  A  volume  might  be  written  tracing  the 
varieties  of  style,  attack,  and  presentation  employed  by 
Keats  in  his  poems.  I  can  do  no  more  than  hint  of  them 
here. 

The  story  of  the  genesis  of  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale  was 
told  by  Brown  to  Lord  Houghton.  I  give  it  in  Brown's 
words: 

"In  the  spring  of  1819  a  nightingale  had  built  her  nest 
near  my  house.  Keats  felt  a  tranquil  and  continual  joy  in 
her  song;  and  one  morning  he  took  his  chair  from  the 
breakfast  table  to  the  grass-plot  under  a  plum-tree,  where 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  41. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  249 

he  sat  for  two  or  three  hours.  When  he  came  into  the 
house,  I  perceived  he  had  some  scraps  of  paper  in  his  hand, 
and  these  he  was  quietly  thrusting  behind  some  books." 

Brown  goes  on  to  say  that  the  scraps  were  "four  or  five 
in  number"  and  that  the  writing  was  "not  well  legible"  so 
that  "it  was  difficult  to  arrange  the  stanzas,"  but  that, 
with  Keats's  aid,  he  finally  did  so.  Brown  was  speaking 
from  memory  twenty  years  after  the  event,  and  in  some 
details  he  was  wrong.  The  poem  was  not  written  on  four 
or  five  scraps  of  paper,  but  on  two  half  sheets.1  Far  from 
being  "not  well  legible,"  the  manuscript  is  extraordinarily 
clearly  written,  and  the  corrections,  which  are  few,  are 
very  easily  deciphered.  Even  the  proper  arrangement  of 
the  stanzas  is  not  hard  to  discover  after  a  first  moment  of 
confusion.  On  the  top  of  one  of  his  half  sheets,  Keats  wrote 
three  words  of  what  seems  to  have  been  an  abandoned  be- 
ginning to  the  poem,  then  he  turned  the  sheet  over  and 
upside  down,  started  properly  with  a  title,  and  wrote 
straight  on  to  the  end  of  the  page.  He  then  took  another 
sheet  and  wrote  on  to  the  end  of  that  page,  after  which  he 
went  back  to  the  verso  of  page  one,  but  from  the  opposite 
end  to  the  false  beginning.  He  finished  on  the  verso  of 
page  two. 

Notwithstanding  the  fact  that  Brown's  memory  played 
him  false  in  these  small  particulars,  his  tale  as  a  whole  need 
not  be  doubted.  The  crumpled  condition  of  the  draft, 
attested  to  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin,2  is  a  sufficient  proof  of 
Brown's  general  accuracy.  On  this  point,  Sir  Sidney  says: 
"These  crushings  and  tearings  .  . .  are  quite  of  a  kind  to 
confirm  Brown's  statement  about  Keats  having  thrust  the 
leaves  away  carelessly  at  the  back  of  a  bookshelf."  What 
one  wonders  at  is  why  neither  Brown  nor  Lord  Houghton 

1  See  facsimile  of  the  first  draft,  now  in  the  Crewe  Collection,  repro- 
duced in  the  Keats  Memorial  Volume,  compiled  by  Dr.  George  C.  Wilkinson, 
1921. 

2  A  Morning's  Work  in  a  Hampstead  Garden,  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin, 
Monthly  Review,  March,  1903;  reprinted  in  Keats  Memorial  Volume,  1921. 


250  JOHN  KEATS 

had  access  to  this  original  draft,  which  was  in  the  possession 
of  the  Reynolds  family,  where  it  remained,  passing  ap- 
parently from  Reynolds  to  his  sister,  Mrs.  Green,  and  from 
her  to  her  sons,  until,  after  the  death  of  the  surviving 
brother  in  190x5,  it  was  sold  at  auction  in  1903.  Reynolds 
must  have  forgotten  its  existence,  as  he  made  Lord  Hough- 
ton  free  of  everything  he  knew  himself  to  possess. 

This  has  been  a  long  digression,  let  us  get  back  at  once  to 
Keats,  sitting  under  the  plum-tree  in  the  double  garden  on 
a  May  morning,  writing  his  ode. 

That  the  full  tide  of  his  melancholy  mood  has  abated  a 
little,  we  can  see  by  the  literary  and  imaginative  quality 
of  the  poem  throughout.  Sad  though  his  mood  still  is,  he 
can  once  more  take  pleasure  in  the  act  of  creation.  The 
man  who  conjured  up  the  vivid  midnight  scene  of  stanzas 
four  and  five  is  not  so  miserable  that  he  cannot  enjoy  the 
play  of  fancy.  The  very  act  of  evoking  such  images  brought 
him  a  momentary  surcease  of  pain.  Leigh  Hunt  under- 
stood this  very  well,  perhaps  it  takes  a  poet  to  do  so.  In 
his  review  of  the  Lamia  volume,  published  the  following 
year,  he  says  of  this  ode:  "There  is  that  mixture  in  it  of 
real  melancholy  and  imaginary  relief,  which  poetry  alone 
presents  us  in  her  'charmed  cup/  "  and  adds:  "A  poet  finds 
refreshment  in  his  imaginary  wine,  as  other  men  do  in  their 
real." 

The  poem  begins: 

"My  heart  aches,  and  a  drowsy  numbness  pains 
My  sense,  as  though  of  hemlock  I  had  drunk, 
Or  emptied  some  dull  opiate  to  the  drains 

One  minute  past,  and  Lethe-wards  had  sunk." 

A  "drowsy  numbness."  The  first  poignance  of  his  sad 
mood  has  passed,  he  is  weary  with  grief,  so  weary  that  he 
would  fain  flee  it  a  moment  if  so  he  may.  And  almost  im- 
mediately he  does,  the  bird-song  carries  his  thoughts  to 
Summer  delights  and  he  is  only  too  willing  to  have  them  go. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  251 

"Dance,  and  Proven  gal  song,  and  sunburnt  mirth!" 

These  things,  in  the  mere  evoking  of  them,  bring  a  measure 
of  happiness.  He  longs  to  drink  of  "  a  beaker  full  of  the 
warm  South,"  and  so  drinking  "leave  the  world  unseen," 
for  even  while  conjuring  up  his  lovely  Summer  images,  be- 
cause of  them  indeed,  the  thought  of  death  haunts  him. 
It  is  the  old  story  of  the  Ode  on  Melancholy,  the  most 
beautiful  things  are  by  contrast  the  most  painful.  The 
third  stanza  is  fraught  with  pain.  He  remembers  only  too 
well  the  many  griefs  which  even  his  short  life  has  known, 
and  chief  among  them  the  constant  underlying  agony  of 
Tom's  death.  It  is  the  memory  of  poor  Tom  which  gave 
him  the  line: 

"Where  youth  grows  pale,  and  spectre-thin,  and  dies." 

The  last  two  lines  of  this  stanza  are  an  echo  of  the  last 
half  of  the  third  stanza  of  the  Grecian  Urn  and  the  first 
part  of  the  last  stanza  of  the  Ode  on  Melancholy ,  but  how 
differently  he  touches  the  theme  here.  The  tone  of  these 
lines  is  infinitely  more  sensitive  than  that  of  the  correspond- 
ing passages  in  either  of  the  other  odes.  More  sensitive 
and  far  more  moving.  This  is  the  very  intimacy  of  grief 
made  manifest.  There  is  no  anger  here,  there  is  only  the 
plain  statement  of  unalterable  and  anguish-laden  fact. 
But  once  more  his  attention  is  caught  by  the  bird-song, 
and,  listening  to  it,  he  forgets  himself  for  a  moment,  only 
for  a  moment,  the  duration  of  two  stanzas.  The  thought  of 
death  returns,  he  longs  to  "cease  upon  the  midnight  with 
no  pain."  Curiously  enough,  he  had  made  use  of  this  same 
expression  in  the  sonnet  of  mid-March,  Why  did  I  laugh 
to-night?  In  the  sonnet,  he  had  said: 

"Yet  would  I  on  this  very  midnight  cease." 

It  was  a  characteristic  habit  with  Keats  to  duplicate  his 
expressions.  A  diligent  student  can  find  many  parallels 


252  JOHN  KEATS 

between  one  poem  and  another.  I  note  this  here  merely 
as  an  example  of  a  rather  odd  custom,  and  because  I  have 
passed  over  many  others  in  silence. 

Stanza  seven  has  been  the  cause  of  much  foolish  chatter. 
In  calling  the  nightingale  "immortal  bird"  and  contrasting 
its  eternity  of  life  with  individual  man's  short  existence, 
any  one  with  a  spark  of  imaginative  or  poetical  feeling 
realizes  at  once  that  Keats  is  not  referring  to  the  particular 
nightingale  singing  at  that  instant,  but  to  the  species 
nightingale.  When  Keats  says: 

"The  voice  I  hear  this  passing  night  was  heard 
In  ancient  days  by  emperor  and  clown" 

he  means,  of  course,  that  the  song  of  the  nightingale  was 
the  same  to  the  ancients  as  to  him.  I  should  not  stoop 
to  such  a  primer-like  explanation,  had  not  so  eminent  a 
scholar  and  poet  as  Dr.  Robert  Bridges  declared  the  idea 
of  this  passage  to  be  "  fanciful  or  superficial  —  man  being 
as  immortal  as  the  bird  in  every  sense  but  that  of  same- 
ness, which  is  assumed  and  does  not  satisfy." 1 

The  last  lines  of  this  stanza  are,  I  think,  the  most  beauti- 
ful in  the  poem.  I  quote  them  for  pure  love  of  them,  to 
gladden  my  heart  and  I  hope  those  of  my  readers: 

"Perhaps  the  self-same  song  that  found  a  path 

Through  the  sad  heart  of  Ruth,  when,  sick  for  home, 
She  stood  in  tears  amid  the  alien  corn ; 

The  same  that  oft-times  hath 
Charm'd  magic  casements,  opening  on  the  foam 
Of  perilous  seas,  in  faery  lands  forlorn." 

It  is  interesting  to  observe  that  in  the  first  draft  Keats 
wrote  "fairy,"  and  the  reading  "faery"  was  not  arrived 
at  until  the  publication  of  the  poem  in  the  Lamia  volume. 
The  change  of  the  spelling  entirely  alters  the  atmosphere, 
bringing  to  it  some  of  the  weird,  unearthly  loveliness 

1  John  Keats.  A  Critical  Essay,  by  Robert  Bridges.   1895. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  253 

which  characterizes  La  Belle  Dame  Sans  Merci.  Keats 
does  not  wish  to  suggest  "fairy-land,"  the  country  of 
little  elves  dancing  on  fairy  rings  in  the  meadows,  but 
the  faery-land  of  old  romance,  of  King  Arthur  and  Pal- 
merin. 

The  change  from  "  fairy  "  to  "  faery  "  was  a  change  made 
long  after  the  writing  of  the  poem.  But  two  other  correc- 
tions in  the  last  two  lines  appear  in  the  draft.  Origi- 
nally the  "magic  casements  "  were  simply  "  the  wide  case- 
ments," and  the  sea  was  "keelless,"  not  "perilous."  Of 
course,  we  do  not  know  whether  these  changes  were  made 
while  Keats  was  still  under  the  plum-tree,  or  later.  Pro- 
fessor Lowes  has  pointed  out  to  me  three  passages  in 
Diodorus  *  which  bear  a  singular  likeness  to  a  part  of  these 
last  two  lines.  In  the  third  chapter  of  Book  III,  there  is  an 
account  of  the  Arabian  gulf,  where  we  are  told  that "  by  the 
continual  dashing  of  the  floods  ...  it  foams  terribly." 
Three  paragraphs  after  this,  we  read:  "The  waves  dashing 
against  these  huge  rocks,  mount  up  in  a  curl,  and  foam  to 
admiration."  And  the  next  sentence  but  one  begins:  "Next 
adjoining  to  this  perilous  sea." 

So  far  as  we  know,  Keats  had  not  been  reading  Diodorus 
lately.  But  we  really  know  very  little  about  it.  Keats  was 
an  omnivorous  reader,  and  may  very  well  have  been  dipping 
into  his  old  love  again.  I  should  take  little  stock  in  the 
foaming  of  the  waves  if  they  were  not  so  closely  connected 
with  the  "perilous  sea."  "Perilous  seas"  is  infinitely  better 
than  "keelless  seas";  whether  Keats  owes  the  expression 
to  a  recollection  of  Diodorus  or  not,  it  was  a  happy  chance 
of  memory  or  inspiration  which  gave  it  to  him.  But  this 
passage  from  the  old  historian,  picturesque  and  excellent 
though  it  is,  is  plain  matter  of  fact.  There  is  no  hint  here 
of  "magic  casements"  or  "faery  lands  forlorn."  There  is, 
in  short,  nothing  of  the  atmosphere  of  Keats's  lines  to  be 
found  in  the  old  Sicilian.  For  that  atmosphere,  I  think  we 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  425. 


254  JOHN  KEATS 

must  turn  back  to  Palmerin.  In  the  third  volume  of  that 
chronicle,  it  is  related  how  the  knight  of  the  Savage  Man, 
being  taken  a  prisoner  by  an  emissary  of  the  giantess 
Colambar,  was  conveyed  in  a  ship  to  the  "Profound  Isle." 
On  the  way,  the  ship  ran  into  a  storm.  Textually,  there  is 
nothing  in  the  description  of  this  storm  to  join  it  to  these 
lines  in  the  Nightingale  ode,  but  inferentially  there  is  a 
great  deal.  Colambar  is  an  enchantress,  which  gives  the 
necessary  atmosphere  at  once,  and  if  the  waves  do  not 
"foam"  verbally,  they  certainly  do  by  implication,  as 
witness  these  passages: 

"the  weather  was  changed  suddenly  with  a  mighty 
tempest ...  So  they  drove  along  under  bare  poles,  rather 
holding  their  death  for  certain  than  having  any  hope  of 
life." 

And  a  few  pages  before: 

"  on  the  third  day  the  wind  arose  so  extreme  and  violent, 
that  in  the  midst  of  winter  it  could  not  be  more  rigorous. " 

Now  the  "Profound  Isle"  was  close  to  another  island,  the 
"Perilous  Isle,"  which  had  long  been  in  the  possession  of 
another  enchantress  and  had  been  bewitched  until  Pal- 
merin broke  the  spell.  Palmerin  embarked  for  this  island 
on  a  stormy  day,  when  the  waves  drove  against  the  rocks 
"with  a  roaring  which  was  heard  afar  off."  The  island 
itself  was  very  rocky,  with  but  one  harbour.  On  the  peak 
of  it  stood  "a  fair  palace,"  which  is  described  with  great 
accuracy  and  much  magnificence,  and  although  the  view 
from  it  is  not  mentioned,  "glass  windows  of  marvellous 
costliness"  are,  and  the  approach  to  it  was  through  a 
beautiful  wood  which  may  well  have  harboured  innumer- 
able nightingales.  Some  of  this  description  is  taken  from 
much  earlier  in  the  book,  but  it  all  refers  to  the  "Perilous 
Isle."  I  cannot  help  thinking  that,  although  the  exact 
expression  "perilous  seas"  may  be  an  echo  of  Diodorus, 
the  whole  passage,  atmosphere  and  all,  owes  its  existence 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  255 

to  the  storm  and  the  description  of  the  palace  of  the 
sorceress  Urganda  in  Palmerin  of  England,  particularly  as 
her  successor  in  the  magic  art,  the  enchantress  Eutropa, 
used  the  island  and  palace  to  lure  wandering  knights  to 
their  doom,  hence  the  connotation  of  "forlorn." 
The  word  "forlorn"  brought  Keats  back  to  himself: 

"Forlorn!  the  very  word  is  like  a  bell 

To  toll  me  back  from  thee  to  my  sole  self  1 
Adieu !  the  fancy  cannot  cheat  so  well 
As  she  is  fam'd  to  do,  deceiving  elf. 
Adieu!  Adieu!  thy  plaintive  anthem  fades 
Past  the  near  meadows,  over  the  still  stream, 
Up  the  hill-side;  and  now  'tis  buried  deep 

In  the  next  valley-glades: 
Was  it  a  vision,  or  a  waking  dream? 

Fled  is  that  music:  —  Do  I  wake  or  sleep?" 

Excellent,  excellent  ending!  Without  abating  a  jot  of 
the  personal  implication,  Keats  keeps  his  half-real,  half 
fantastic,  atmosphere  throughout.  The  sense  of  dreaming 
enwraps  the  reader  with  the  very  first  line  of  the  poem  and 
is  never  once  absent,  the  concluding  lines  augmenting  it  to 
the  softest  and  vaguest  of  minor  climaxes. 

The  Ode  to  a  Nightingale  is  a  marvel  of  poetic  construc- 
tion. The  way  Keats  manages  his  repeated  words  is  an  ex- 
treme example  of  his  mastery  of  musical  effect.  All  through 
his  imaginative  stanzas,  the  tone  of  the  opening  lines  of 
the  poem  sounds  as  an  organ-point  beneath  what  he  is 
actually  saying,  and  the  reiteration  of  his  original  note, 
muffled,  distant,  yet  perfectly  clear,  in  the  final  stanza, 
is  superb.  The  student  of  poetic  architectonics  can  find 
no  better  primer  to  his  hand  than  the  three  odes:  the 
Grecian  Urn,  the  Nightingale  and  To  Autumn^  and,  for 
mere  technique,  a  detailed  examination  of  the  variation 
of  the  whereabouts  of  the  short  line,  or  the  lack  of  it,  in 
all  six  odes  is  a  liberal  education.  For  structural,  tech- 
nical, musical,  and  thematic  handling  these  odes  are  ex- 


256  JOHN  KEATS 

traordinarily  rich  in  suggestion  and  are  well  worth  the 
closest  study. 

It  is  difficult  to  determine,  nor  is  it  in  the  least  necessary, 
whether  the  Grecian  Urn  or  the  Nightingale  is  the  finer;  it 
is  enough  that  both  together  are  so  variously  and  indis- 
putably fine.  Only  To  Autumn  can  rank  with  them.  They 
leave  the  other  three  odes  of  this  Spring  so  far  behind  that 
in  that  fact  alone  is  matter  for  much  pondering  on  the 
singular  inequality  of  Keats's  production  at  any,  and  all, 
times  throughout  his  life.  If  his  artistic  level  rose  steadily 
during  his  life,  as  it  did,  nevertheless,  at  any  given  moment, 
he  was  capable  of  writing  poems  far  below  the  highest  range 
of  that  particular  moment.  No  poet  is  always  at  his  best, 
but  few  are  so  consistently  unequal  as  Keats  never  ceased 
to  be. 

Haydon,  writing  in  April,  1821,  to  Miss  Mitford1  has  a 
tale  to  tell  of  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale.  He  says: 

"as  we  were  one  evening  walking  in  the  Kilburn  mea- 
dows he  repeated  it  to  me,  before  he  put  it  to  paper,  in  a  low, 
tremulous  undertone  which  affected  me  extremely.1' 

Haydon  was  mistaken  as  to  Keats  not  having  written  out 
the  poem  at  the  time  of  his  reciting  it  during  the  walk  in 
the  Kilburn  meadows.  What  was  probably  the  case  was 
that  he  told  Haydon  he  had  no  fair  copy;  and  the  reason 
for  his  saying  this  we  can  surmise  by  deduction.  Haydon 
was  the  man  behind  the  throne  of  a  magazine  called 
Annals  of  the  Fine  Arts,  edited  by  a  certain  James  Elmes. 
This  Elmes  was  a  henchman  and  valiant  ally  of  Haydon's, 
backing  him  up  in  all  his  quarrels  and  more  than  eager  to 
take  his  cue  in  everything.  It  seems  extremely  likely  that 
when  Keats  repeated  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale  to  him, 
Haydon  at  once  suggested  the  publication  of  the  poem  in 
the  Annals,  and  that  Keats  replied  that  he  should  have  to 

1  "Benjamin  Robert  Haydon:  Correspondence  and  Table-Talk.    With  a 
Memoir  by  his  son,  Frederick  Wordsworth  Haydon. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  257 

copy  it  out  before  sending  it  to  Elmes.  He  did  send  it  to 
Elmes,  on  Monday,  June  fourteenth,1  and  it  duly  appeared 
in  the  number  of  the  magazine  for  July,  1819,  signed,  not 
with  Keats's  name,  but  with  a  dagger.  In  this  dagger,  we 
see  the  dirty  work  of  the  reviews.  Keats  had  no  mind  to 
send  the  Ode  to  a  Nightingale  into  the  world  to  do  battle 
against  such  a  prejudice  as  he  felt  the  dastardly  reviews 
had  saddled  him  with.  The  poem  should  at  least  have  fair 
play.  Hence  the  dagger,  and  hence  that  other  pseudonym, 
Caviar ',  which  he  employed  later  on  two  occasions.  It  is 
interesting  to  note  that  the  word  "faery"  was  still  "fairy" 
when  the  poem  was  printed  in  the  Annals. 

The  last  of  the  poems  of  this  so  fruitful  Spring  was  —  if, 
as  I  say,  my  reasoning  be  correct  —  the  Ode  on  Indolence. 
By  the  time  he  wrote  it,  toward  the  end  of  May,  it  would 
seem,  his  long  orgy  of  writing  had  tired  him  out.  His 
sorrowful  mood  had  worn  away  to  a  mere  wistful  essence 
of  its  first  energy.  From  the  title  of  the  ode,  I  suppose  some 
little  time  had  elapsed  between  it  and  the  Nightingale.  He 
wrote  to  Miss  Jeffrey  on  June  ninth  that  he  had  "been 
very  idle  lately,"  so  that  it  must  have  been  written  some 
time  before  that  date,  but  he  has  this  to  say  of  this  partic- 
ular ode:  "You  will  judge  of  my  1819  temper  when  I  tell 
you  that  the  thing  I  have  most  enjoyed  this  year  has  been 
writing  an  ode  to  Indolence."  We  see  by  this  that  the  ode 
was  still  in  his  mind;  and  there  is  another  sentence  to  prove 
it,  for  Keats  tells  his  correspondent:  "I  hope  I  am  a  little 
more  of  a  Philosopher  than  I  was,  consequently  a  little 
less  of  a  versifying  Pet-lamb."  Now  in  the  sixth  stanza  of 
the  Ode  on  Indolence  occur  these  lines: 

"For  I  would  not  be  dieted  with  praise, 
A  pet-lamb  in  a  sentimental  farce!" 

These  two  identical  metaphors  are  pretty  good  proof 

1  Buxton  For  man  dates  this  letter  "June  I2th,"  but  apparently  this  is 
an  error,  as  Keats  told  Haydon  on  June  1 7th  that  he  had  sent  the  poem  to 
Elmes  "on  Monday,"  and  Monday  was  the  I4th. 


258  JOHN  KEATS 

that  the  ode  was  the  last  thing  he  had  written,  I  think,  but 
there  is  a  more  convincing  one  in  the  ode  itself.  Keats 
states  the  season  perfectly  clearly  in  two  separate  stanzas 
of  the  poem,  and  it  is  obvious  that  he  is  not  inventing  a 
fictitious  time  or  place,  as  in  the  midnight  stanzas  in  the 
Nightingale.  This  poem  is  absolutely  autobiographical 
and  makes  no  attempt  to  be  otherwise,  so  that  what  he 
says  of  his  environment  may  be  taken  as  exact  fact. 
These  are  the  lines  in  question : 

". . .  Ripe  was  the  drowsy  hour; 
The  blissful  cloud  of  summer-indolence 
Benumb'd  my  eyes: 

The  morn  was  clouded,  but  no  shower  fell, 

Tho*  in  her  lids  hung  the  sweet  tears  of  May." 

The  Ode  on  Indolence  is  merely  a  poetic  version  of  his 
Greek  Vase  image  of  mid-March.1  He  imagines  three 
figures,  a  man  and  two  women,  passing  by  him  "like 
figures  on  a  marble  urn."  As  each  approaches,  it  turns  to- 
ward him.  Three  times  the  figures  pass  him,  and  he  knows 
the  two  women  to  be  Love  and  that  "maiden  most  un- 
meek"  his  "demon  Poesy";  the  man  is  Ambition.  For  a 
moment  he  longs  to  follow  them,  but  finds  himself  inert 
and  too  content  to  lift  his  head  "cool-bedded  in  the 
flowery  grass."  He  admits  that  he  still  has 

".  .  .visions  for  the  night, 
And  for  the  day  faint  visions  there  is  store  " ; 

but  for  the  moment  he  can  only  bid  the  phantoms  to 
vanish,  for  nothing  can  rouse  him,  his  only  desire  is  to  feel 
nothing. 

This,  of  course,  was  pure  fatigue,  and  the  poem  shows 
it.  He  was  well-advised  to  exclude  it  from  the  Lamia 
volume. 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  191. 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  259 

Because  of  the  obvious  duplicate  of  idea  between  the 
Ode  on  Indolence  and  the  March  image,  it  has  often  been 
supposed  that  Keats  must  have  written  this  ode  some  time 
in  February  or  March.  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  was  the  first 
person  to  assign  to  it  its  proper  date  of  May.  He  suggests 
that  the  languorous  mood  of  March  had  returned.  It 
evidently  had,  or  one  very  much  like  it  only  a  shade  more 
sad,  and  the  cause  was  the  same  in  the  latter  case  as  in  the 
former  —  sheer  weariness.  The  reasons  for  this  fatigue 
were  very  much  the  same  also,  except  that,  in  May,  we 
have  an  excess  of  work  to  add  to  the  general  quota  of  dis- 
appointment and  difficult  conditions.  Notwithstanding  all 
this,  there  is  another  thing  which  we  must  take  into  ac- 
count: the  poet's  natural  aptitude  to  retain  in  his  mind  a 
striking  figure  or  idea  for  future  use.  When  Keats  first 
thought  of  personifying  Love,  Ambition,  and  Poetry  by 
figures  on  a  Greek  vase,  he  was  not  in  a  mood  to  make  use 
of  them.  Later,  having  done  what  he  knew  to  be  a  con- 
siderable amount  of  good  work  and  then  suffered  a  short 
and  most  unwelcome  pause,  he  set  about  hunting  for  a 
subject  which  should  start  him  off  again,  and  found  his 
idea  of  two  months  before  still  waiting  to  be  utilized.  By 
this  time,  the  idea  (which  he  had  liked  and  thought  capable 
of  possibilities  from  the  moment  of  conceiving  it)  had  taken 
on  a  more  or  less  definite  shape.  Every  writer  is  perfectly 
familiar  with  the  phenomenon  of  unconscious  creation. 
Henry  James,  in  the  Preface  to  his  novel,  The  American? 
describes  this  phenomenon  so  accurately  that  I  will  quote 
his  description  here: 

"  I  was  charmed  with  my  idea,  which  would  take,  how- 
ever, much  working  out;  and  precisely  because  it  had  so 
much  to  give,  I  think,  must  I  have  dropped  it  into  the  deep 
well  of  unconscious  cerebration :  not  without  hope,  doubt- 
less, that  it  might  eventually  emerge  from  that  reservoir, 
as  one  had  already  known  the  buried  treasure  to  come  to 

1  The  Navels  and  Tales  of  Henry  James.  New  York  Edition.   1907. 


260  JOHN  KEATS 

light,  with  a  firm  iridescent  surface  and  a  notable  increase 
in  weight." 

Keats's  idea,  in  this  case,  did  not  "come  to  light  with  a 
firm  iridescent  surface  and  a  notable  increase  in  weight" 
for  the  very  excellent  reason  that  he  did  not  wait  for  it  to 
come  to  light  at  all.  He  pulled  it  out  of  the  shadowland  of 
the  unconscious  because  he  wanted  to  write  a  poem  and 
assure  himself  that  the  wave  of  creation  was  not  spent. 
The  result  of  this  most  unwise  proceeding  was  a  failure. 
On  Idolence  is  much  the  poorest  of  his  odes  proper,  as  he 
knew  very  well.  He  may  have  enjoyed  writing  it,  but  I 
think  his  remarks  on  the  subject  to  Miss  Jeffrey  smack 
rather  more  of  a  wilful  desire  to  praise  this  feeble  child  of 
his  brain  than  of  any  real  belief  in  the  quality  of  the  ode 
itself,  also  probably  he  liked  the  main  idea  of  the  ode  quite 
apart  from  its  working  out.  Later,  when  it  came  to  a  ques- 
tion of  publication,  this  ode,  as  we  have  seen,  went  into  the 
discard. 

With  the  Ode  on  Indolence  y  Keats's  month  of  magnificent 
and  intensive  creation  came  to  an  abrupt  end.  The  chief 
cause  for  this  was  that  the  quasi-peace  which  he  had  been 
enjoying  was  suddenly  shattered  to  bits.  This  did  not 
happen  all  at  once;  and  to  show  the  gradual  advance  of 
disagreeable  circumstances,  I  must  go  back  a  little. 

On  the  thirteenth  of  May,  the  long  awaited  letter  from 
George  arrived.  The  young  couple  had  changed  their 
plans,  it  seemed,  and  up  to  date  had  no  remarkably  good 
news  to  impart.  The  journey  across  country  to  Pittsburgh 
from  Philadelphia,  where  they  had  landed,  was  a  decidedly 
rough  and  unpleasant  one  if  taken  in  the  stage  coaches  of 
the  place  and  period.  To  save  his  young  wife  the  fatigue 
of  such  a  trip,  George  had  purchased  a  carriage  and 
horses  —  a  considerable  expense  for  him  —  and  the  pair 
had  travelled  to  Pittsburgh  in  this  equipage.  Arriving  at 
Pittsburgh,  they  forwarded  the  horses  to  Cincinnati  by  land 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  261 

and  transferred  themselves  and  their  belongings  to  a  keel- 
boat  in  which  they  floated  for  some  six  hundred  miles  down 
the  Ohio  River.  For  some  reason,  they  stopped  at  Louisville, 
and  here  George  changed  his  mind  about  going  on  to  Birk- 
beck's  settlement,  deciding  on  someone's  very  poor  advice 
to  try  his  fortunes  in  a  different  way.  Why  they  did  not 
remain  in  Louisville,  we  do  not  know,  but  they  did  not; 
instead,  they  went  on  to  Henderson,  some  hundred  miles 
or  so  farther  down  the  river.  At  Henderson,  the  young 
couple  lodged  in  the  same  house  with  Audubon,  the 
naturalist.  Audubon  seems  to  have  persuaded  George  to 
buy  shares  in  a  boat  which  plied  up  and  down  the  river 
with  cargoes  of  various  sorts.  The  boat  was  out  on  one  of 
its  trips  at  the  time,  and  George  appears  to  have  invested 
his  money  without  having  seen  it.  Eventually  he  dis- 
covered that  the  boat  had  sunk  and  was  a  total  loss. 
Rightly  or  wrongly,  George  Keats  believed  that  Audubon 
had  known  that  the  boat  was  at  the  bottom  of  the  river 
when  he  persuaded  George  to  put  his  money  into  it.1  All 
this  information  was  not  in  the  letter  received  on  May 
thirteenth,  only  so  much  as  declared  George's  intention  of 
not  going  on  to  Birkbeck's  settlement.  One  bit  of  really 
good  news  the  letter  did  contain,  George  and  his  wife  were 
both  quite  well.  But  if  George's  tidings  were  negative,  with 
a  leaning  toward  the  good  side,  another  piece  of  intelligence 
which  Keats  heard  shortly  afterwards  was  very  much  the 
reverse.  The  why  of  Keats's  finding  it  out  will  take  a  little 
explanation. 

Brown,  as  we  already  know,  always  let  his  half  of  Went- 
worth  Place  for  the  Summer.  This  habit  of  his  made  it 
imperative  for  Keats  to  look  about  for  somewhere  to  spend 
the  time  of  Brown's  absence.  There  had  been  some  idea 
of  Keats  and  Brown  passing  the  Summer  in  Brussels,  but 

1  The  American  Brother  of  John  Keats,  by  John  Gilmer  Speed,  in  The 
Christian  Union  for  August  20,  1892.  Also  Some  Recollections  of  George 
Keats,  by  James  Freeman  Clarke,  in  Buxton  Forman's  Library  Edition. 


262  JOHN  KEATS 

the  plan  had  been  given  up.  As  the  time  of  Brown's  depar- 
ture drew  near,  Keats  began  to  consider  seriously  what  he 
should  do.  He  could  not  face  going  back  to  his  old  Well 
Walk  lodgings,  the  thought  of  Tom  was  too  painfully 
insistent  there.  One  wonders  why  no  other  lodgings  at 
Hampstead  appear  to  have  been  thought  of,  but  nothing  of 
the  kind  seems  to  have  been  considered,  possibly  for  fear 
of  hurting  the  Bentleys'  feelings,  who,  Keats  tells  Miss 
Jeffrey,  "have  become  friends  of  mine."  Also  his  funds 
were  at  a  very  low  ebb.  By  the  end  of  May,  Keats  had 
come  to  see  his  immediate  future  as  one  of  two  alternatives. 
Either  he  would  go  as  surgeon  on  an  Indiaman,  or  he 
would  retire  to  some  cheap  place  in  the  country  and  con- 
tinue to  study  and  write.  On  the  thirty-first  of  May,  he 
wrote  to  Miss  Jeffrey,  asking  her  to  inquire  for  a  cheap 
lodging  near  Teignmouth;  not  in  Teignmouth  itself,  on 
that  point  he  is  very  clear,  again,  of  course,  on  account  of 
its  connection  with  Tom.  These  alternatives  he  called 
"the  choice  of  two  poisons." 

Miss  Jeffrey  answered  promptly,  strongly  advising 
against  the  Indiaman,  and  suggesting  the  village  of  Brad- 
ley as  a  good  place  for  Keats  to  play  the  studious  hermit  in. 
Keats  loathed  the  idea  of  the  Indiaman.  It  is  probable 
that  his  only  reason  for  contemplating  it  was  to  escape 
hiring  himself  out  to  a  country  or  suburban  practitioner, 
which  would  have  entailed  the  detested  shop.  On  the 
eighth  of  June,  Rice  went  out  to  Hampstead  to  see  him  and 
propose  their  both  going  to  the  little  village  of  Shanklin  in 
the  Isle  of  Wight.  This  meant  sharing  expenses,  which  was 
an  item  to  Keats,  and  he  liked  Rice  very  much.  The  plan 
seemed  a  godsend  and  he  accepted  it.  But  before  the  mo- 
ment to  start  came,  things  took  a  decided  turn  for  the 
worse.  By  the  fourteenth  of  June,  his  sore  throat  had  come 
back.  Of  course  we  can  instantly  see  how  all  the  worry 
and  trouble  he  had  been  undergoing  would  have  had  just 
this  effect.  His  resistance  was  so  reduced  that  all  the 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  263 

symptoms  of  his  fatal  disease  were  bound  to  be  augmented 
forthwith.  And  this  was  not  all. 

Going  on  Wednesday,  the  sixteenth,  to  see  Abbey,  pre- 
sumably to  try  and  get  some  money  for  his  approaching 
journey  and  stay  at  Shanklin,  he  was  greeted  by  the  mis- 
erable news  that  his  aunt,  Mrs.  Midgely  Jennings,  dis- 
satisfied with  Abbey's  administration  of  her  mother-in- 
law's  estate,  very  likely  also  erroneously  thinking  that  it 
was  in  some  way  owing  to  Abbey's  negligence  that  the 
original  chancery  suit  still  hung  fire,  had  threatened  to 
bring  another  suit  in  chancery  at  once.  The  effect  of  such  a 
suit  would  be  to  tie  up  completely  all  the  funds  in  Abbey's 
hands  and  leave  Keats  for  an  indefinite  period  absolutely 
penniless. 

It  is  much  to  Keats 's  credit  that  he  at  once  decided  to 
seek  a  position  with  an  apothecary.  But  here  Brown 
stepped  in.  Brown,  like  Woodhouse,  had  implicit  faith  in 
Keats's  genius  and  the  certainty  of  his  winning  fame  and 
being  able  to  support  himself  if  time  were  given  him.  He 
would  not  hear  of  the  apothecary  scheme.  Keats  must  try 
the  press  again,  and  he  must  go  to  Shanklin  with  Rice  and 
write  in  as  much  peace  as  this  not  too  auspicious  arrange- 
ment would  allow.  And  Brown  not  only  encouraged  and 
counselled,  he  lent  Keats  money  to  go  on  with.  This  was 
generous  of  Brown,  although  one  cannot  help  feeling  that 
it  would  have  been  more  generous  to  have  given  up  the  idea 
of  renting  his  house  and  let  Keats  stay  quietly  on  at 
Hampstead,  where  he  had  the  comfort  of  being  near  Fanny 
Brawne.  It  is,  of  course,  possible  that  Brown  had  already 
engaged  with  his  Summer  tenants;  at  any  rate,  whether  he 
had  or  not,  the  idea  of  changing  his  plans  does  not  seem  to 
have  entered  into  his  calculations. 

At  this  juncture,  Keats  asked  Haydon  to  return  some  of 
the  money  which  Keats  had  lent  him.  His  letter  told 
Haydon  all  the  particulars  of  his  situation  very  calmly 
and  clearly.  He  did  not  ask  for  the  return  of  the  whole 


264  JOHN  KEATS 

loan,  he  merely  asked  for  "some"  money.  But  here  Keats 
encountered  Haydon's  seamy  side.  Haydon's  capacity  for 
borrowing  was  inexhaustible,  but  he  never  paid  his  debts, 
and  the  debt  to  Keats  was  no  exception.  Keats  never  got 
back  a  single  penny  of  his  loan.  This  cut  Keats  to  the 
quick,  naturally.  Writing  to  George  in  September,  he  has 
this  to  say  of  Haydon's  behaviour: 

"he  did  not  seem  to  care  much  about  it,  and  let  me 
go  without  my  money  with  almost  nonchalance,  when  he 
ought  to  have  sold  his  drawings  to  supply  me.  I  shall 
perhaps  still  be  acquainted  with  him,  but  for  friendship, 
that  is  at  an  end." 

This,  I  think,  to  be  in  the  main  true.  Keats  eventually 
drifted  back  into  some  sort  of  a  friendship  with  Haydon, 
but  never  into  the  close  intimacy  which  had  marked  their 
early  connection.  He  was  too  profoundly  hurt,  and  Haydon 
had  proved  himself  too  unworthy.  Bailey  and  Haydon, 
two  friendships  lost  in  a  twelvemonth.  A  strange,  pathetic, 
eventful  twelvemonth  it  had  been.  Looking  back  to  the 
previous  June,  Keats  must  have  felt  as  though  he  were  so- 
journing in  another  world.  A  very  changed  world  indeed, 
for  had  not  Abbey  told  him,  along  with  the  information 
about  Mrs.  Jennings,  of  a  letter  he  had  had  from  George 
announcing  the  birth  of  a  daughter.  Such  an  event,  for- 
tunate although  Keats  must  have  thought  it  in  one  way, 
was  bound  to  increase  George's  difficulties  considerably, 
and,  closely  bound  together  as  the  brothers  were,  what 
affected  one  affected  both.  Here  was  the  shadow  of  a  new 
responsibility  for  John,  who  had  all  he  could  cope  with  as  it 
was.  To  add  to  his  trials,  he  must  now  tear  himself  away 
from  Fanny  Brawne.  It  was  a  bitter  struggle,  but  what  else 
was  to  be  done  ?  If  they  were  ever  to  marry,  he  must  make 
some  money,  and  everyone  but  Abbey  seemed  to  be  agreed 
that  the  best  way  for  him  to  do  so  was  by  writing.  It  is  to 
the  honour  of  Fanny  Brawne  that  she  put  no  stumbling- 


SWIFT  CURRENTS  265 

block  in  his  way.  She  had  much  to  bear  during  the  next 
four  months,  but  she  never  flinched.  Keats  knew  better 
than  his  friends  the  quality  of  the  girl  to  whom  he  was 
engaged.  The  day  came,  and  Keats  bade  her  good-bye, 
with  what  feelings  can  very  well  be  imagined,  and  he  and 
Rice  set  off  for  Shanklin. 


CHAPTER  XI 
A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW 

BEFORE  leaving  Hampstead,  Keats  seems  in  a  measure  to 
have  set  his  house  in  order.  Among  other  things,  he  re- 
turned various  borrowed  books,  as  we  see  by  an  undated 
letter  to  Dilke,  erroneously  attributed  by  someone  to  the 
following  year.1  Another  thing  he  did  was  to  send  his 
picture  to  his  sister  Fanny.  In  his  last  letter  to  her  before 
his  departure,  written  on  June  sixteenth,  he  says: 

11 1  am  very  sorry  to  think  I  shall  not  be  able  to  come  to 
Walthamstow.  The  Head  Mr.  Severn  did  of  me  is  now  too 
dear,  but  here  enclosed  is  a  very  capital  Profile  done  bv 
Mr.  Brown/' 

The  "Head"  by  Mr.  Severn  was  the  miniature  exhibited 
that  year  at  the  Royal  Academy  Exhibition.  Severn  made 
several  copies  of  it,  one  of  which  was  at  some  time  given  to 
Fanny  Brawne.  The  "  capital  Profile  done  by  Mr.  Brown  " 
was  undoubtedly  a  silhouette.  A  silhouette  of  Keats  was 
discovered  among  Severn's  papers,  which  it  has  been  the 
custom  to  attribute  to  Severn,  a  fact  that  I  have  always 
held  in  very  grave  doubt.  Indeed,  I  have  long  been  con- 
vinced that  the  author  of  it  was  Brown,  but  it  is  only 
within  the  last  few  months  that  my  belief  has  become 
a  certainty.  During  the  current  year  (1924),  the  Keats 
Memorial  Association  at  Hampstead  received  a  number  of 
relics  of  the  poet  from  the  descendants  of  Charles  Brown  in 
New  Zealand.  Among  them  was  another  silhouette  so  like 
the  first  that  there  can  be  no  doubt  that  they  were  done  by 
the  same  hand.  This  second  silhouette  is  known  to  have 

»  The  letter  is  endorsed  in  pencil,  "  1820,"  but  this  is  evidently  a  mis- 
take.  Unfortunately  Buxton  Forman  has  followed  this  misleading  date  in 
his  editions. 


268  JOHN  KEATS 

been  cut  by  Brown,  and  a  drawing  by  him,  also  lately  dis- 
covered, which  I  have  used  as  a  frontispiece  to  the  second 
volume  of  this  book,  shows  such  similarity  of  treatment 
with  both  silhouettes  that  there  is  no  longer  any  room  for 
query  on  the  subject.  I  have  put  the  two  silhouettes  side 
by  side  on  one  page  in  order  that  they  may  be  compared. 
They  were  cut  on  different  days,  that  is  clear,  and  represent 
Keats  in  different  moods.  The  first  is  the  more  alert;  the 
second,  the  more  appealing.  I  am  inclined  to  think  that  the 
first  was  done  earlier  than  the  other,  possibly  before  Tom's 
death,  or,  if  not  so  soon  as  that,  then  at  some  time  during 
the  Winter  when  Keats  was  feeling  particularly  well;  the 
second  I  believe  to  represent  him  just  before  going  to 
Shanklin,  and  was  probably  the  one  sent  to  Fanny  Keats. 
Silhouettes  can  be  easily  duplicated  by  the  simple  means  of 
tracing  the  outline  of  the  original  picture  on  the  white  side 
of  another  sheet  of  silhouette  paper,  so  that  because  Severn, 
or  Fanny  Keats,  had  a  copy,  is  no  proof  that  replicas  may 
not  have  existed.  From  Brown's  having  carefully  pre- 
served the  second  silhouette,  I  suppose  it  to  have  been  the 
one  which  he  preferred.  To  my  mind,  these  silhouettes  are 
the  most  attractive,  and  the  most  authentic,  likenesses  of 
Keats  which  have  come  down  to  us.  The  life  mask  is 
absolutely  accurate,  of  course,  but  in  looking  at  it  we  have 
to  make  some  allowance  for  the  weight  of  the  plaster  on  the 
more  mobile  parts  of  the  features.  The  lips,  for  instance, 
give  the  impression  of  being  drawn  back  and  depressed. 

It  was  on  Sunday,  June  twenty-seventh,  that  Keats  and 
Rice  left  London  by  the  Portsmouth  coach.  They  evidently 
went  down  by  day,  as  Keats  wrote  his  sister  on  July  sixth: 

"I  was  on  the  Portsmouth  Coach  the  Sunday  before 
last  in  that  heavy  shower  —  and  I  may  say  that  I  went  to 
Portsmouth  by  water  —  I  got  a  little  cold,  and  as  it  al- 
ways flies  to  my  throat  I  am  a  little  out  of  sorts  that  way." 

This  was  not  the  first  time  that  Keats  had  been  on  the 


0  2  | 


ffll 


H 
< 


u 


J  W  s 
«  O.S 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  269 

top  of  a  coach  in  a  rain-storm.  But  this  time  the  shower 
seems  to  have  caught  him  en  route.  We  will  hope  that  he 
had  grown  at  least  wise  enough  not  to  risk  starting  outside 
in  a  rain,  as  he  had  done  when  he  went  to  Teignmouth  the 
year  before.  The  reason  for  the  day  coach  is  obvious;  the 
expense  was  less.  There  were  many  day  coaches  from 
London  to  Portsmouth,  but  the  slowest,  and  therefore, 
without  doubt,  the  cheapest,  was  the  "Regulator,"  which 
left  the  Angel  Inn,  St.  Clement's,  Strand,  at  eight  in  the 
morning.  Keats's  altered  finances  stand  very  clearly  re- 
vealed by  this  choice  of  coach;  hitherto  he  seems  to  have 
travelled  either  by  the  mail  or  by  some  crack  coach.  That 
I  am  right  as  to  his  going  down  by  the  most  inexpensive 
means  is  shown  by  the  fact  that  "some  common  French 
people  but  very  well  behaved"  were  among  his  fellow 
passengers.  The  "Regulator"  deposited  its  travellers  at 
the  George  Inn,  Portsmouth,  at  seven  o'clock  in  the  eve- 
ning. It  is  only  some  seven  miles  from  Portsmouth  to  Ryde, 
but  it  is  scarcely  likely  that  the  "Regulator"  connected 
with  a  packet  as  did  the  Royal  Mail.  It  was  possible  to 
procure  a  wherry  at  any  hour,  but  it  is  extremely  improbable 
that  our  two  young  men  went  to  the  expense  of  hiring  one. 
No,  I  think  they  passed  that  night  at  the  George  and 
crossed  over  to  the  Isle  of  Wight  by  the  first  public  packet 
the  next  morning.  This  would  date  their  arrival  at  Shank- 
lin  as  being  on  Monday,  June  twenty-eighth. 

The  chief  thing  in  Keats's  mind  on  reaching  his  desti- 
nation was  homesickness.  He  was  perfectly  miserable. 
There  was  no  post  from  Shanklin,  letters  had  to  trust  to 
carrier's  carts,  or  some  other  means  even  more  casual,  for 
conveyance  to  the  post  town  of  Newport,  nine  miles  away 
by  road.  On  Tuesday  night  Keats  wrote  Fanny  Brawne 
so  agonized  a  letter  that,  the  convenient  carrier  not  being 
forthcoming  on  Wednesday,  he  thought  better  of  his 
vehemence  and  tore  it  up.  He  tells  the  story  in  another 
letter  to  Miss  Brawne,  written  on  Thursday  morning: 


27o  JOHN  KEATS 

"I  am  glad  I  had  not  an  opportunity  of  sending  off  a 
Letter  which  I  wrote  for  you  on  Tuesday  night  —  Twas 
too  much  like  one  out  of  Ro[u]sseau's  Heloise.  I  am  more 
reasonable  this  morning.  The  morning  is  the  only  proper 
time  for  me  to  write  to  a  beautiful  Girl  whom  I  love  so 
much :  for  at  night,  when  the  lonely  day  has  closed,  and  the 
lonely,  silent,  unmusical  Chamber  is  waiting  to  receive  me 
as  into  a  Sepulchre,  then  believe  me  my  passion  gets  en- 
tirely the  sway,  then  I  would  not  have  you  see  those 
R[h]apsodies  which  I  once  thought  it  impossible  I  should 
ever  give  way  to,  and  which  I  have  often  laughed  at  in  an- 
other, for  fear  you  should  [think  me]1  either  too  unhappy 
or  a  little  mad." 

Later  in  the  letter,  he  says: 

"I  know  not  how  to  express  my  devotion  to  so  fair  a 
form:  I  want  a  brighter  word  than  bright,  a  fairer  word 
than  fair. .  .  But  however  selfish  I  may  feel,  I  am  sure  I 
could  never  act  selfishly:  as  I  told  you  a  day  or  two  before 
I  left  Hampstead,  I  will  never  return  to  London  if  my 
Fate  does  not  turn  up  Pam2  or  at  least  a  Court-card." 

He  even  envisages  the  possibility  of  her  marrying  someone 
else.  And  why  not,  when  his  own  prospects  seemed  to  put 
marriage  on  the  other  side  of  beyond?  If,  he  tells  her,  he 
thought  that  she  felt  for  him  what  he  does  for  her, 

"I  do  not  think  I  could  restrain  myself  from  seeing  you 
again  tomorrow  for  the  delight  of  one  embrace.  But  no  — 
I  must  live  upon  hope  and  Chance." 

It  was  a  pretty  awful  situation  truly,  to  have  all  one's 
hopes  of  the  future  depend  upon  the  working  of  an  imagi- 
nation sorely  hampered  by  untoward  circumstance.  And 
he  was  feeling  far  from  well,  and  Rice  was  very  poorly 
indeed.  They  were  in  a  lovely  place,  to  be  sure: 

1  These  words  are  missing  in  the  original,  they  were  interpolated  by 
Buxton  Forman. 

2  Pam  is  the  knave  of  clubs  in  the  game  of  loo. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  271 

"Our  window  looks  over  house-tops  and  Cliffs  onto  the 
Sea,  so  that  when  the  Ships  sail  past  the  Cottage  chimnies 
you  may  take  them  for  weathercocks.  We  have  Hill  and 
Dale,  forest  and  Mead,  and  plenty  of  lobsters." 

So  he  writes  to  his  sister,  bravely  keeping  his  anxieties 
out  of  his  letter. 

The  truth  is  that  neither  place  nor  companion  were  of 
Keats's  choosing,  and  neither  was  suited  to  his  state  of 
mind  or  health.  It  is  one  thing  to  like  a  man  and  enjoy 
his  companionship  for  an  hour  or  a  day,  and  quite  another 
to  find  that  same  man  sympathetic  in  the  role  of  daily 
familiar.  Rice  was  a  thoroughly  good  fellow,  but  he  was 
ailing  himself,  and  contact  with  illness  of  any  sort  was  of 
all  things  the  most  undesirable  for  Keats  just  then.  De- 
pressed as  he  was,  he  needed  to  be  surrounded  with  cheerful- 
ness and  normality,  and  these  were  just  the  things  which 
Rice  could  not  give  him.  What  was  the  matter  with  Rice, 
no  one  says,  but  he  seems  to  have  been  subject  to  sick 
spells  of  more  or  less  duration,  and  he  was  suffering  from 
one  of  these  spells  at  Shanklin  apparently.  Keats  speaks  of 
him  as  "Poor  Rice"  and  admits  that  "his  illness  makes 
him  rather  a  melancholy  companion."  Writing  to  Dilke  a 
month  later,  when  Rice  had  left  Shanklin,  Keats  is  more 
explicit.  This  is  how  he  sums  up  the  situation,  then  happily 
over: 

"Rice  and  I  passed  rather  a  dull  time  of  it.  I  hope  he 
will  not  regret  coming  with  me.  He  was  unwell,  and  I  was 
not  in  very  good  health:  and  I  am  afraid  we  made  each 
other  worse  by  acting  upon  each  other's  spirits.  We  would 
grow  as  melancholy  as  need  be.  I  confess  I  cannot  bear  a 
sick  person  in  a  House,  especially  alone  —  it  weighs  upon 
me  day  and  night." 

Rice,  however,  had  a  certain  bonhomie^  we  have  al- 
ready seen  how  well  he  got  on  with  the  Devonshire  bar- 
maids,1 and  here  at  Shanklin  he  developed  a  knack  of 
1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  610. 


272  JOHN  KEATS 

chatting  with  the  village  people.  This  was  a  knack  which 
Keats  was  conspicuously  without.  Apropos  of  this,  Keats 
tells  his  sister  of  Rice: 

"He  has  a  greater  tact  in  speaking  to  people  of  the  vil- 
lage than  I  have,  and  in  those  matters  is  a  great  amuse- 
ment as  well  as  a  good  friend  to  me.'1 

Keats  had  come  down  to  the  Isle  of  Wight  to  work,  and 
work  he  must,  willy-nilly.  How  long  he  took  to  get  at  it, 
there  is  no  means  of  telling,  but  by  Thursday,  July  eighth, 
he  was  in  full  swing,  as  we  see  by  a  letter  to  Fanny  Brawne 
of  that  date.  There  is  much  in  this  letter  of  prime  im- 
portance. It  shows  us  a  great  deal  of  Fanny  Brawne's 
attitude,  particularly  her  natural  resentment  at  Keats's 
constant  harping  upon  her  beauty,  as  if  that  were  the  part 
of  her  that  chiefly  mattered;  it  shows  much  of  the  reason 
for  Keats's  failure  as  a  lover,  the  reason  why  he  suffered  as 
he  did,  the  misfortune  of  his  temperament  which,  under  the 
scourge  of  his  illness,  made  the  purely  physical  side  of  love 
of  such  vast  importance  to  him;  it  shows  also  his  belief, 
which  was  probably  based  on  a  correct  diagnosis,  that  had  it 
been  possible  for  him  and  Miss  Brawne  to  be  married  at 
once  most  of  his  morbid  convulsions  and  imaginings  would 
have  faded  away.  I  will  quote  the  letter  somewhat  fully: 

"All  my  thoughts,  my  unhappiest  days  and  nights,  have 
I  find  not  at  all  cured  me  of  my  love  of  Beauty,  but  made 
it  so  intense  that  I  am  miserable  that  you  are  not  with  me: 
or  rather  breathe  in  that  dull  sort  of  patience  that  cannot 
be  called  Life.  I  never  knew  before,  what  such  a  love  as 
you  have  made  me  feel,  was;  I  did  not  believe  in  it;  my 
Fancy  was  afraid  of  it,  lest  it  should  burn  me  up.  But  if 
you  will  fully  love  me,  though  there  may  be  some  fire, 
'twill  not  be  more  than  we  can  bear  when  moistened  and 
bedewed  with  Pleasures  .  .  .  Why  may  I  not  speak  of  your 
Beauty,  since  without  that  I  could  never  have  lov'd  you? 
—  I  cannot  conceive  any  beginning  of  such  love  as  I  have 
for  you  but  Beauty.  There  may  be  a  sort  of  love  for  which, 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  273 

without  the  least  sneer  at  it,  I  have  the  highest  respect  and 
can  admire  it  in  others:  but  it  has  not  the  richness,  the 
bloom,  the  full  form,  the  enchantment  of  love  after  my 
own  heart.  So  let  me  speak  of  your  Beauty,  though  to  my 
own  endangering;  if  you  could  be  so  cruel  to  me  as  to  try 
elsewhere  its  Power.  You  say  you  are  afraid  I  shall  think 
you  do  not  love  me  —  in  saying  this  you  make  me  ache  the 
more  to  be  near  you.  I  am  at  diligent  use  of  my  faculties 
here,  I  do  not  pass  a  day  without  sprawling  some  blank 
verse  or  tagging  some  rhymes;  and  here  I  must  confess, 
that  (since  I  am  on  that  subject)  I  love  you  the  more  in 
that  I  believe  you  have  liked  me  for  my  own  sake  and 
nothing  else.  I  have  met  with  women  whom  I  really 
think  would  like  to  be  married  to  a  Poem  and  to  be  given 
away  by  a  novel.'1 

Fanny  Brawne  loved  him  for  his  own  sake  most  certainly, 
loved  him  through  fair  weather  and  foul,  and  was  even  so 
understanding  as  not  to  be  jealous  of  his  work.  And  this 
work,  this  sprawled  blank  verse  and  tagged  rhymes,  what 
was  it  in  this  second  week  of  July,  1819?  This  is  not  a  little 
difficult  to  say.  In  a  mutilated  letter  of  July  twelfth  to 
Reynolds,  Keats  writes: 

"You  will  be  glad  to  hear,  under  my  own  hand  (though 
Rice  says  we  are  like  Sauntering  Jack  and  Idle  Joe),  how 
diligent  I  have  been,  and  am  being.  I  have  finished  the 
Act,  and  in  the  interval  of  beginning  the  2nd  have  pro- 
ceeded pretty  well  with  Lamia,  finishing  the  Ist  part, 
which  consists  of  about  four  hundred  lines." 

The  act  here  referred  to  has  always  been  supposed  to  be 
the  first  act  of  Otho  the  Great,  but  there  is  a  little  hitch  in 
connection  with  that  supposition.  What  is  puzzling  about 
this  reference  is  that  Brown  distinctly  told  Lord  Houghton 
that  it  was  at  Shanklin  that  Keats  "undertook"  the 
writing  of  Otho  the  Great  in  collaboration  with  him,  and  the 
method  of  this  collaboration  as  detailed  by  Brown  (I  shall 
quote  Brown's  words  in  a  moment)  makes  Brown's  pres- 


274  JOHN  KEATS 

ence  at  the  time  of  writing  a  necessity.  Now  Brown  does 
not  seem  to  have  arrived  at  Shanklin  until  later  in  the 
month.  Keats  first  mentions  him  in  a  letter  to  Fanny 
Brawne,  written  on  Sunday,  July  twenty-fifth,  and  this 
mention  would  seem  to  place  his  arrival  as  having  taken 
place  toward  the  end  of  the  preceding  week.  Of  course, 
Brown,  in  recollection,  may  have  confused  a  later  pro- 
ceeding with  an  earlier.  It  may  be  that  the  plan  of  writing 
Otho  had  been  broached  before  Keats  left  Hampstead,  and 
the  first  two  acts  sketched  out  for  Keats  to  work  upon. 
This  would  seem  a  possible  explanation  of  the  puzzle  were 
it  not  that  it  leaves  out  of  account  entirely  the  way  in 
which  the  two  friends  worked;  also  there  is  another  much 
more  plausible  one,  the  basis  for  which  has  only  just  come 
to  light.  To  understand  its  importance,  I  must  preface  the 
discussion  of  it  a  little. 

Reynolds,  who,  notwithstanding  his  position  as  a  bud- 
ding solicitor,  had  not  quite  given  up  his  pen,  had  lately 
been  induced  to  try  his  hand  at  a  musical  farce.  This  farce, 
which  bore  the  singular  title  of  One,  Two,  Three,  Four,  Five; 
By  Advertisement,  was  written  for  a  young  actor  named 
John  Reeve  whose  chief  asset  was  a  marked  talent  for 
mimicry.  The  farce  was  produced  at  the  English  Opera 
House  on  July  seventeenth,  1819.  It  enjoyed  quite  a 
success,  and  was  popular  enough  to  be  published  as  one  of 
the  series  of  printed  plays  known  as  Cumberland's  British 
Theatre.  Woodhouse  speaks  of  it  to  Taylor,  in  a  letter 1 
which  seems  to  have  been  written  in  August,  as  follows: 

"I  have  just  bought  his  "One  two  three  four  Five'1  and 
paid  just  that  number  of  pence  for  it  plus  3.  It  lies  on  my 
table  uncut;  If  I  had  read  it  I  would  send  it  you:  but  your 
curiosity  can  keep  ...  It  shall  go  in  the  next  parcel." 

Again  he  writes,  under  the  date  of  September  seventh:2 

1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Collection.  2  Ibid. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  275 

"I  also  send  (if  Hessey  forwards  it,  which  I  have  in- 
joined  him  to  do)  Reynolds's  One,  two  3.4.5.  Such  a  thing 
must  be  judged  of,  not  as  a  literary  production,  but,  by 
your  golden  rule,  according  to  the  purpose  of  the  Au- 
thor .  .  .  How  triumphantly  it  succeeded,  I  told  you  when 
I  went  in  my  theatro-critical  capacity  to  see  it.  There 
is  much  of  Reynolds's  kind  of  wit,  half  pun  &  half  humour 
in  it." 

Now  in  the  Woodhouse  Book  in  the  Morgan  Library 
there  is  a  most  extraordinary  fragment.  It  is  written  on  all 
four  sides  of  a  sheet  of  octavo  paper  and  is  not  in  Keats's 
handwriting.  I  am  not  prepared  to  say  in  whose  writing  it 
is  without  more  study  than  I  have  yet  been  able  to  accord 
it,  but  this  is  of  little  moment,  since  it  seems  certain  that 
it  is  merely  a  copy.  Woodhouse's  statement  that  all  the 
poems  in  his  book  were  by  Keats  unless  otherwise  labelled 
leaves  little  room  for  doubt  on  this  score;  and,  as  a  matter 
of  fact,  nothing  in  the  volume  is  in  Keats's  hand,  all  the 
poems  and  fragments  are  copies  by  someone  or  other.  This 
particular  fragment  is  an  excerpt  from  a  play,  and  copied 
in  a  hurry.  It  begins  in  the  middle  of  a  scene,  and  is 
very  difficult  to  read,  as  the  characters  speaking  are  only 
occasionally  indicated,  and  there  is  no  punctuation  to 
speak  of,  and  no  spacing  between  speeches.  I  have  given 
this  fragment  at  the  end  of  this  book,1  together  with  an 
emendated  version,  spaced  and  punctuated  by  me.  The 
scene  is  mostly  written  in  blank  verse,  but  there  is  a  little 
song  in  one  place  which  is  obviously  intended  to  be  actually 
sung  to  music.  I  am  bound  to  admit  that  the  scene  does 
not  in  any  way  remind  one  of  Keats,  but  it  does  very 
forcibly  remind  one  of  Reynolds's  musical  farce,  and  might 
easily  have  been  written  by  Keats  in  an  endeavour  to 
write  something  pleasing  to  the  popular  taste.  Reynolds's 
farce  is  in  prose,  occasionally  dropping  into  blank  verse, 
and  with  several  interpolated  songs;  there  is  no  prose  in 

1  See  Appendix  B. 


276  JOHN  KEATS 

the  fragment,  nevertheless  the  construction  of  the  scene 
and  the  included  song,  together  with  the  general  tenor 
of  the  whole,  link  the  two  pieces  together  as  belonging 
to  a  genre.  Keats  had  doubtless  read  Reynolds's  farce 
before  leaving  London,  and  he  was  probably  as  partial  to 
"Reynolds's  kind  of  wit"  as  was  Woodhouse.  Scenting  in 
One,  Two,  Three,  Four,  Five  a  popular  success,  it  may  well 
have  occurred  to  him  that  one  way  of  raising  the  wind 
would  be  to  do  something  similar,  and  hence  this  attempt 
in  a  field  quite  new  to  him.  The  characters  and  plot  of  this 
fragment  closely  follow  a  pattern  very  familiar  to  readers 
of  early  nineteenth  century  farces.  The  scene  deals  with  a 
stock  situation,  but  the  persons  of  the  play,  although  again 
they  are  the  quite  usual  dramatis  persona  of  innumerable 
plays  of  the  type,  have  a  distinct  liveliness  and  humour, 
and  give  the  fragment  sufficient  interest  to  leave  us  specu- 
lating on  what  was  to  come.  In  view  of  all  this,  I  cannot 
help  thinking  that  the  puzzle  in  the  letter  to  Reynolds  finds 
in  this  fragment  its  answer.  Probably  Keats  and  Reynolds 
had  talked  over  the  likelihood  of  Keats's  being  able  to  fol- 
low in  his  friend's  footsteps  and  produce  an  actable  farce, 
hence  Keats's  assurance  that  he  had  done  one  act  of  it.  I 
do  not  say  that  I  have  proved  this  to  be  the  case;  I  merely 
say  that  here  is  an  explanation  which  should,  at  least,  be 
considered. 

Keats  was  turning  a  bold  face  to  his  difficulties  certainly. 
He  had  been  at  Shanklin  just  two  weeks  and  had  com- 
pleted an  act  of  something,  and  four  hundred  lines  of 
Lamia.  More  than  this,  he  knew  what  he  was  doing,  and 
where  it  might  lead  and  where  not.  He  tells  Reynolds: 

"  I  have  great  hopes  of  success,  because  I  make  use  of 
my  judgement  more  deliberately  than  I  have  yet  done;  but 
in  case  of  failure  with  the  world,  I  shall  find  my  content . . . 
however  I  should  like  to  enjoy  what  the  competencies  of 
life  procure,  I  am  in  no  wise  dashed  at  a  different  prospect. 
I  have  spent  too  many  thoughtful  days  and  moralized 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  277 

through  too  many  nights  for  that,  and  fruitless  would  they 
be  indeed,  if  they  did  not  by  degrees  make  me  look  upon 
the  affairs  of  the  world  with  a  healthy  deliberation.  I  have 
of  late  been  moulting:  not  for  fresh  feathers  and  wings: 
they  are  gone,  and  in  their  stead  I  hope  to  have  a  pair  of 
sublunary  legs.  I  have  altered,  not  from  a  Chrysalis  into  a 
butterfly,  but  the  contrary;  having  two  little  loopholes, 
whence  I  may  look  out  into  the  stage  of  the  world :  and 
that  world  on  our  coming  here  I  almost  forgot.  The  first 
time  I  sat  down  to  write,  I  could  scarcely  believe  in  the 
necessity  for  so  doing.  It  struck  me  as  a  great  oddity.  Yet 
the  very  corn  which  is  now  so  beautiful,  as  if  it  had  only 
took  to  ripening  yesterday,  is  for  the  market;  so,  why 
should  I  be  delicate?" 

To  write  with  the  conscious  intention  of  selling  what  he 
was  writing  as  a  chief  means  of  support,  was  new  to  Keats, 
and  the  idea  irked  him  a  little.  So  much  we  can  plainly  see, 
but  also  we  can  notice  how  Keats,  in  a  sort  of  wonder, 
found  that  the  mature  artist  may  cozen  his  muse  to  obey 
his  beck  and  call  to  a  considerable  extent.  Othoy  his  main 
pot-boiler,  was  a  failure,  it  is  true,  but  this  was  for  several 
reasons  besides  the  one  of  being  written  to  order;  while 
Lamia  was  a  brilliant  success.  It  must  have  given  him  a 
great  deal  of  satisfaction  to  find  himself  fairly  at  work, 
started  upon  the  enormous  task  of  pushing  away  the 
clouds  which  hung  over  him  by  doing  something  with  a 
direct  bearing  upon  his  destiny.  Every  step  on  the  road 
brought  him,  by  just  so  much,  nearer  to  marriage  with 
Fanny  Brawne. 

But  Keats  reckoned  without  his  health.  Three  days 
more,  and  he  was  in  an  "  irritable  state  of  health."  And  the 
irritation,  as  was  usual  with  him,  led  to  languor.  On 
Thursday,  July  fifteenth,  he  confessed  to  Fanny  Brawne, 
who  seems  to  have  written  him  a  consoling  letter: 

"You  must  have  found  out  by  this  time  I  am  a  little 
given  to  bode  ill  like  the  raven ;  it  is  my  misfortune  not  my 


278  JOHN  KEATS 

fault;  it  has  proceeded  from  the  general  tenor  of  the  cir- 
cumstances of  my  life,  and  rendered  every  event  suspi- 
cious." 

He  tells  her  that  when  he  thinks  that  he  will  not  see  her 
"  the  next  day,  or  the  next  —  it  takes  on  the  appearance  of 
impossibility  and  eternity";  he  gives  himself  a  month  more 
and  then  he  will  see  her,  although,  he  adds,  "after  having 
once  more  kissed  you  Sweet  I  would  rather  be  here  alone  at 
my  task  than  in  the  bustle  and  hateful  literary  chitchat." 

This  is  not  so  much  the  utterance  of  a  disillusioned  man 
as  that  of  a  sick  one.  He  was  taxing  his  strength  for  all  it 
would  bear,  and  had  no  energy  left  for  companies,  or 
crowds,  or  gadding  of  any  sort. 

Sometime  during  the  week  of  July  nineteenth,  Brown 
appeared  at  Shanklin,  together  with  a  fellow  named 
Martin,  one  of  that  innumerable  outside  circle  of  friends 
whom  Keats  occasionally  mentions.  The  arrival  of  Brown 
was  a  pleasure,  but  the  racket  of  four  young  men  in  very 
confined  quarters  Keats  found  hard  to  bear.  He  excuses 
himself  for  not  having  written  to  Fanny  Brawne  "on 
Saturday"  by  saying: 

"We  have  had  four  in  our  small  room  playing  at  cards 
night  and  morning  leaving  me  no  undisturbed  opportunity 
to  write.  Now  Rice  and  Martin  are  gone  I  am  at  liberty." 

It  must  have  been  a  great  relief  when  Rice  and  Martin 
departed,  leaving  only  Brown,  whom  Keats  had  come  to 
regard  almost  as  another  brother.  He  and  Brown  had 
grown  habituated  to  living  together,  and,  as  had  happened 
before,  Brown's  splendid  health  and  cheerful  outlook  on 
life  were  tonic  to  Keats's  soul.  The  letter  to  Miss  Brawne 
was  written  on  Sunday,  July  twenty-fifth,  so  Rice  and 
Martin  must  have  left  Shanklin  either  late  on  Saturday  or 
early  on  Sunday  morning.  The  immediate  effect  of  their 
departure  was  to  send  Keats  feverishly  back  to  poetry.  He 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  279 

has,  he  informs  Miss  Brawne,  "been  all  day  employed  in  a 
very  abstr[a]ct  Poem."  Whether  he  referred  to  Lamia  or  to 
Hyperion,  which  he  may  have  been  tinkering,  we  can  only 
surmise. 

To  gain  any  accurate  knowledge  of  Keats's  inner  life  at 
this  period  the  letters  to  Fanny  Brawne  are  an  indis- 
pensable study.  Considerations  of  space  alone  prevent  me 
from  quoting  them  entire.  As  it  is,  we  must  do  with  ex- 
tracts. In  this  letter,  we  find  him  discussing  his  idea  of  him- 
self, which  was  not  flattering,  and  we  see  how  the  very 
longing  of  his  love,  only  so  distantly  certain  of  fulfilment, 
brought  him  up  sharply  against  the  idea  of  death.  His 
absence  from  Fanny  Brawne  caused  every  thought  con- 
nected with  her  to  take  on  a  tinge  of  morbidness.  And  this 
morbidness  grew  on  him  all  that  Summer,  grew  and  grew 
until  it  nearly  engulfed  them  both  in  immediate  tragedy,  a 
tragedy  only  averted  by  their  finally  meeting.  Here  is  his 
mood  on  that  particular  Sunday  evening: 

"You  cannot  conceive  how  I  ache  to  be  with  you:  how  I 
would  die  for  one  hour  —  for  what  is  in  the  world?  I  say 
you  cannot  conceive;  it  is  impossible  you  should  look  with 
such  eyes  upon  me  as  I  have  upon  you:  it  cannot  be  ... 
My  dear  love,  I  cannot  believe  there  ever  was  or  ever 
could  be  anything  to  admire  in  me  especially  as  far  as 
sight  goes  —  I  cannot  be  admired,  I  am  not  a  thing  to  be 
admired.  You  are,  I  love  you;  all  I  can  bring  to  you  is  a 
swooning  admiration  of  your  Beauty.  I  hold  that  place 
among  Men  which  snub-nos'd  brunettes  with  meeting 
eyebrows  do  among  women  —  they  are  trash  to  me  —  un- 
less I  should  find  one  among  them  with  a  fire  in  her  heart 
like  the  one  that  burns  in  mine.  You  absorb  me  in  spite  of 
myself  —  you  alone:  for  I  look  not  forward  with  any 
pleasure  to  what  is  call'd  being  settled  in  the  world;  I 
tremble  at  domestic  cares  —  yet  for  you  I  would  meet 
them,  though  if  it  would  leave  you  the  happier  I  would 
rather  die  than  do  so.  I  have  two  luxuries  to  brood  over  in 
my  walks,  your  Loveliness  and  the  hour  of  my  death.  O 


28o  JOHN  KEATS 

that  I  could  have  possession  of  them  both  in  the  same 
minute.  I  hate  the  world :  it  batters  too  much  the  wings  of 
my  self-will,  and  would  I  could  take  a  sweet  poison  from 
your  lips  to  send  me  out  of  it.  From  no  others  would  I  take 
it.  I  am  indeed  astonish'd  to  find  myself  so  careless  of  all 
cha[r]ms  but  yours  —  rememb[e]ring  as  I  do  the  time 
when  even  a  bit  of  ribband  was  a  matter  of  interest  to  me." 

These  cannot  have  been  altogether  pleasant  letters  for  a 
young  girl  to  receive  from  the  man  to  whom  she  was  en- 
gaged. Fanny  Brawne  must  have  understood  Keats  very 
well,  and  loved  him  greatly,  to  have  stood  this  sort  of 
thing.  But  all  she  appears  to  have  done,  to  judge  by  Keats's 
references  to  her  answers,  was  to  assure  him,  again  and 
again,  of  his  attractiveness  and  her  continuing  love.  She 
was  not  well  either,  poor  girl!  But  it  never  seems  to  have 
entered  her  ego-centric  lover's  head  that  the  separation 
was  a  strain  for  her  as  well  as  for  him,  and  that  the  letters 
he  sent  her  were  anything  but  soothing.  This  was  the  weak 
side  of  the  affair,  and  the  worst  side  of  Keats  which  we 
know  —  his  impenetrable  misjudgment  of  Fanny  Brawne. 
All  through  his  correspondence  with  her,  he  tells  her  that 
he  loves  her,  but  does  no  single  thing  to  prove  it.  He  never 
inquires  into  her  concerns,  he  never  seeks  to  bring  her 
pleasure.  It  is  himself  of  whom  he  is  thinking  always  — 
how  their  relations  affect  him,  never  how  they  affect  her. 
If  he  could  never  have  been  selfish  with  her  in  the  great 
things  of  life,  he  seems  seldom  to  have  been  anything  else 
in  the  small.  Keats  was  an  almost  perfect  friend,  but,  alas! 
a  most  imperfect  lover. 

Yet  we  must  not  blame  him  too  much,  particularly  as 
regards  his  morbidness.  He  was  a  very  sick  man,  leading  a 
life  which,  for  a  consumptive,  was  nothing  short  of  slow 
suicide.  And  Fanny  Brawne  got  only  the  miserable  resi- 
due of  his  vitality,  after  every  ounce  of  energy  he  had  in 
him  had  been  drained  into  poetry.  The  marvel  is,  not  that 
he  was  completely  spent  when  his  daily  stint  of  work  was 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  281 

over,  but  that,  with  the  exception  of  Otho,  which  was  a 
forced  product  and  should  never  have  been  attempted,  the 
work  itself  showed  no  diminution  of  power,  no  least  failure 
of  either  virility  or  imagination. 

I  think  we  must  blame  the  Gripus  fragment  (I  call  it  so 
from  the  name  of  the  chief  character)  for  Brown's  having 
conceived  the  idea  of  Otho  the  Great.  Undoubtedly  he  knew 
of  the  projected  musical  farce,  and  felt  how  unsuited  such  a 
thing  was  to  Keats's  genius.  Undoubtedly,  also,  Keats 
showed  him  that  one  completed  act  when  they  were  safely 
alone  together  after  Rice  and  Martin  had  gone.  Whether 
it  were  the  thought  of  it  before  he  joined  Keats,  or  the 
perusal  of  the  act  already  done,  Brown  seems  to  have  been 
ready  with  an  alternative  plan  at  once.  Perhaps  he  came 
down  with  it  full-fledged  in  his  head,  perhaps  it  popped 
into  his  mind  while  Keats  read  Gripus  to  him,  perhaps  it 
dawned  upon  him  as  an  aftermath  of  that  event.  When- 
ever it  came  to  him,  he  had  a  plan,  and  the  plan  was  this: 
He  and  Keats  should  write  a  poetic  tragedy.  He,  with  the 
experience  of  his  one  play  actually  presented  five  years 
before,  would  be  responsible  for  the  plot,  the  general 
management  of  scenes,  in  short  for  the  purely  dramatic 
part  of  the  venture;  Keats  should  supply  the  poetry. 
Here  is  how  he  described  the  arrangement  to  Lord 
Houghton : l 

"At  Shanklin  he  undertook  a  difficult  task;  I  engaged  to 
furnish  him  with  the  title,  characters,  and  dramatic  con- 
duct of  a  tragedy,  and  he  was  to  enwrap  it  in  poetry.  The 
progress  of  this  work  was  curious,  for  while  I  sat  opposite 
to  him,  he  caught  my  description  of  each  scene  entire, 
with  the  characters  to  be  brought  forward,  the  events,  and 
everything  to  be  connected  with  it.  Thus  he  went  on, 
scene  after  scene,  never  knowing  nor  inquiring  into  the 
scene  which  was  to  follow,  until  four  acts  were  completed. 
It  was  then  he  required  to  know  at  once  all  the  events 

1  Note  by  Lord  Houghton  in  the  Aldine  edition  of  Keats's  works,  1876; 
quoted  in  Buxton  Forman's  Complete  Edition. 


282  JOHN  KEATS 

that  were  to  occupy  the  fifth  act;  I  explained  them  to  him, 
but,  after  a  patient  hearing  and  some  thought,  he  insisted 
that  many  incidents  in  it  were  too  humorous,  or,  as  he 
termed  them,  too  melodramatic.  He  wrote  the  fifth  act  in 
accordance  with  his  own  views,  and  so  contented  was  I 
with  his  poetry  that  at  the  time,  and  for  a  long  time  after, 
I  thought  he  was  in  the  right." 

Keats  must  have  felt  himself  very  inept  in  the  matter  of 
drama  to  have  consented  to  such  a  scheme.  But  truly 
there  was  a  sufficient  reason  for  his  so  doing,  and  this  was 
just  that  Otho  was,  in  absolute  fact,  a  pot-boiler.  He  did 
not  feel  it,  it  had  not  lain  dormant  within  him,  hatching 
itself  into  a  shape  of  meaning  and  beauty.  It  was  an 
extraneous  thing  to  him,  a  cuckoo's  egg  dropped  into  the 
nest  of  his  dreams.  This  was  not  true  of  Lamia.  He  may 
have  begun  it  just  then  because  he  felt  he  must  be  writing 
some  poetry  —  Gripus,  of  course,  not  being  a  satisfying 
thing  to  do  —  but  he  had  probably  conceived  it  long  be- 
fore, some  time  during  the  Winter  when  he  was  reading 
Burton's  Anatomy  of  Melancholy.  In  his  subconsciousness 
it  had  remained,  and  waxed  strong,  lustrous,  and  inde- 
pendent, ready  to  come  at  a  call,  or  to  fall  upon  him  un- 
bidden in  no  long  time  if  he  had  not  called. 

Exactly  when  the  two  friends  began  this  odd  collabora- 
tion, we  do  not  know,  but  they  were  well  into  it  by  Satur- 
day, July  thirty-first.  "Brown  and  I  are  pretty  well 
harnessed  again  to  our  dog-cart.  I  mean  the  Tragedy, 
which  goes  on  sinkingly,"  Keats  informed  Dilke  in  a  letter 
of  that  date.  The  "  again "  is  disturbing.  Does  it  mean 
that  Otho  had  been  begun  at  Hampstead?  I  do  not  believe 
so.  I  think  this  is  one  of  the  many  slips  to  be  found  in 
Keats's  letters.  I  believe  that  the  "again"  here  simply 
means  that  he  and  Brown  are  settled  down  to  living  to- 
gether as  usual,  and  that  he  goes  on  to  the  tragedy  without 
noticing  the  possible  connection.  It  is  apparent  that  Dilke 
knew  of  the  tragedy;  but  this,  Brown,  who  was  in  constant 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  283 

correspondence  with  Dilke,  may  have  already  written 
about. 

What  an  excellent  companion  Brown  was,  how  full  of 
amusing  resources,  how  invigorating  to  Keats,  another 
sentence  in  Keats's  letter  shows.  As  this  sentence  leads  to 
a  sequel,  I  give  it  as  it  stands: 

"The  Art  of  Poetry  is  not  sufficient  for  us,  and  if  we  get 
on  in  that  as  well  as  we  do  in  painting,  we  shall  by  next 
winter  crush  the  Reviews  and  the  Royal  Academy.  In- 
deed, if  Brown  would  take  a  little  of  my  advice,  he  could 
not  fail  to  be  the  first  palet[te]  of  his  day.  But  odd  as  it 
may  appear,  he  says  plainly  that  he  cannot  see  any  force 
in  my  plea  of  putting  skies  in  the  background,  and  leaving 
Indian  ink  out  of  an  ash  tree.  The  other  day  he  was 
sketching  Shanklin  Church,  and  as  I  saw  how  the  business 
was  going  on,  I  challenged  him  to  a  trial  of  skill  —  he  lent 
me  Pencil  and  Paper  —  we  keep  the  Sketches  to  contend 
for  the  Prize  at  the  Gallery.  I  will  not  say  whose  I  think 
best  —  but  really  I  do  not  think  Brown's  done  to  the  top 
of  the  Art." 

The  sequel  was  long  in  coming,  but  here  it  is.  In  1922,  a 
grand-daughter  of  Charles  Brown,  living  in  New  Zealand, 
sent  to  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  a  pencil  sketch  of  Keats  made  by 
her  grandfather,  together  with  an  account  of  its  origin 
according  to  family  tradition.  The  particulars,  in  Miss 
Brown's  words,  are  these: 

1  "Keats  and  my  grandfather  were  out  sketching  to- 
gether; when  they  came  in  Keats  was  a  little  tired,  and  he 
half-reclined  in  a  couch  or  easy  chair.  My  grandfather 
opened  his  portfolio  and  made  this  pencil  copy.  He  was 
pleased  with  the  result  and  kept  it.  Then  it  passed  on  to 
my  father;  after  his  death  my  mother  gave  it  to  me." 

Sir  Sidney  presented  this  drawing  to  the  National  Por- 
trait Gallery,  London,  where  it  now  is.  At  my  request,  the 

1  Quoted  from  a  paper,  A  New  Portrait  of  Keats,  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin, 
published  in  the  Observer  for  Sunday,  September  24,  1922. 


284  JOHN  KEATS 

directors  of  the  Gallery  most  courteously  sent  me  a  photo- 
graph of  the  drawing,  with  permission  to  reproduce  it,  and 
this  reproduction  stands  as  the  frontispiece  of  this  volume. 
To  me,  this  drawing  ranks  only  second  to  the  silhouettes 
in  charm.  All  three  attempts  are  so  much  more  real,  more 
human,  than  any  of  the  other  portraits  of  Keats,  that 
their  discovery  is  a  godsend  to  those  people  who  have 
found  it  very  hard  to  believe  that  the  weak  and  senti- 
mental youth  of  Severn's  and  Hilton's  pictures  could  ever 
have  resembled  the  strong,  masculine,  and  forceful  fellow 
that  Keats  certainly  was.  The  namby-pamby  was  too 
often  confused  with  the  inspirational  in  the  minds  of 
mediocre  artists  in  Keats's  day.  Brown,  with  his  sturdy 
commonsense  and  devotion  to  fact,  has  given  us  an  un- 
idealized  likeness  of  a  good-looking  and  interesting  man, 
and  he  has  given  us  this  man  under  three  aspects.  How 
faithfully  Brown  rendered  what  he  saw,  will  be  realized  at 
once  on  comparing  the  three  pictures,  for  Keats's  growing 
weariness,  his  gradually  declining  health,  is  very  evident 
if  we  take  them  in  chronological  order.  Indeed,  it  is  this 
fact  more  than  any  other  which  has  emboldened  me  to 
hazard  the  tentative  chronology  already  suggested  in  the 
consideration  of  the  silhouettes.1 

Keats's  fatigue,  in  Brown's  drawing,  is  a  commentary  to 
his  letters,  and  in  following  him  through  the  Summer  we 
must  never  forget  its  constant  presence,  and  we  must  read 
everything  except  his  poetry  by  the  light  of  it.  Keats  was 
still  able  to  throw  off  his  inertia  where  poetry  was  con- 
cerned. Even  in  his  letters,  we  can  see  how,  when  his  in- 
tellect was  fairly  roused,  or  his  humour  sufficiently  touched, 
he  could  be  his  normal,  vital  self  for  a  space.  But  the 
lapses  back  are  all  too  clear,  the  sense  of  futility  too  con- 
stantly waiting  to  pounce  upon  him,  the  difficulty  of  any 
intercourse  but  that  of  his  most  intimate  friends  too  in- 
creasing a  trial,  for  any  one  with  the  noticing  eye  to  be  mis- 

1  See  Vol.  II,  p.  268. 


ffi 

c/] 
h 

ffi 
u 

(S 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  285 

led  for  a  moment  as  to  his  real  condition.  Keats  thought, 
and  his  friends  thought,  that  it  was  the  trend  of  events 
preying  upon  him  which  caused  these  symptoms;  but, 
miserable  as  these  events  were,  they  were  not  the  half,  nor 
the  quarter,  of  the  trouble.  Tuberculosis,  and  neglected 
tuberculosis  at  that,  is  chiefly  responsible,  and  Keats 
could  not  have  helped  feeling  as  he  did,  no  matter  in  what 
current  of  events  life  had  chosen  to  place  him.  And  yet 
I  do  not  wish  to  over-accentuate  all  this.  Keats  was 
still  capable  of  a  long  and  lusty  fight,  as  we  are  about  to 
witness. 

The  debilitating  climate  of  the  Isle  of  Wight  was  be- 
ginning to  tell.  Keats  walked  about  the  country,  but, 
while  admitting  its  beauty,  admitted  also  that  it  did  not 
interest  him.  "I  do  not  hesitate  to  say  it  is  fine,"  he  tells 
Dilke.  "  But  I  have  been  so  many  finer  walks,  with  a  back 
ground  of  lake  and  mountain  instead  of  the  sea,  that  I  am 
not  much  touch'd  with  it,  though  I  credit  it  with  all  the 
Surprise  I  should  have  felt  if  it  had  taken  my  cockney 
maidenhead."  Keats  thought  himself  blase,  surfeited  with 
the  picturesque;  he  was  not,  he  was  ill.  Perhaps  Brown 
agreed  with  him,  perhaps  only  humoured  him;  at  any  rate, 
it  was  decided  that  they  should  go  away  and  try  some- 
where else.  Where,  was  not  yet  determined  upon.  At  the 
end  of  the  letter  to  Dilke,  Keats  says:  "We  leave  this  place 
on  the  13th,  and  will  let  you  know  where  we  may  be  a  few 
days  after." 

That  was  on  Saturday,  July  thirty-first;  by  the  following 
Thursday,  the  place  had  been  selected.  "This  day  week 
we  shall  move  to  Winchester;  for  I  feel  the  want  of  a 
Library,"  he  writes  to  Fanny  Brawne  on  that  day.  It  was 
time  he  went.  His  sensations,  as  he  detailed  them  later, 
are  very  convincing: 

"  I  began  to  hate  the  very  posts  there  —  the  voice  of  the 
old  Lady  over  the  way  was  getting  a  great  Plague.  The 
Fisherman's  face  never  altered  any  more  than  our  black 


286  JOHN  KEATS 

teapot  —  the  [k]nob  however  was  knocked  off  to  my  little 
relief." 

Before  taking  him  from  Shanklin,  however,  I  must  give 
a  few  more  extracts  from  his  August  fifth  letter  to  Fanny 
Brawne.  The  first  is  but  another  illustration  of  mental 
unrest,  and  again  we  see  him  raking  up  the  old  question  of 
why  Miss  Brawne  should  love  him: 

"Thank  God  for  my  diligence!  were  it  not  for  that  I 
should  be  miserable.  I  encourage  it,  and  strive  not  to 
think  of  you  —  but  when  I  have  succeeded  in  doing  so  all 
day  and  as  far  as  midnight,  you  return,  as  soon  as  this 
artificial  excitement  goes  off,  more  severely  from  the  fever 
I  am  left  in.  Upon  my  soul  I  cannot  say  what  you  could 
like  me  for.  I  do  not  think  myself  a  fright  any  more  than  I 
do  Mr.  A.,  Mr.  B.,  and  Mr.  C.  —  yet  if  I  were  a  woman  I 
should  not  like  A.B.C.  But  enough  of  this.  So  you  intend 
to  hold  me  to  my  promise  of  seeing  you  in  a  short  time.  I 
shall  keep  it  with  as  much  sorrow  as  gladness:  for  I  am  not 
one  of  the  Paladins  of  old  who  liv'd  upon  water  grass  and 
smiles  for  years  together.  What  though  would  I  not  give 
to-night  for  the  gratification  of  my  eyes  alone?" 

A  pleasant  thing  this,  for  Fanny  Brawne  to  dwell  upon. 
Only  for  a  little  bit  of  compensation  immediately  following, 
this  must  have  been  a  somewhat  bitter  remark  to  digest. 
The  palliating  passage,  which  comes  after  his  telling  her  of 
Winchester,  is  as  follows: 

"  Brown  will  leave  me  there  to  pay  a  visit  to  Mr.  Snook 
at  Bedhampton :  in  his  absence  I  will  flit  to  you  and  back. 
I  will  stay  very  little  while,  for  as  I  am  in  a  train  of  writing 
now  I  fear  to  disturb  it  —  let  it  have  its  course  bad  or  good 
—  in  it  I  shall  try  my  own  strength  and  the  public  pulse. 
At  Winchester  I  shall  get  your  Letters  more  readily;  and 
it  being  a  cathedral  City  I  shall  have  a  pleasure  always  a 
great  one  to  me  when  near  a  Cathedral,  of  reading  them 
during  the  service  up  and  down  the  Aisle." 

The  next  day,  Friday,  he  was  distinctly  more  buoyant; 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  287 

even  so  much  so  as  to  plan  their  future  together,  with  that 
fine  scorn  of  the  usual  and  humdrum  peculiar  to  his  species 
and  age.  It  is  a  relief  to  read  this  passage,  and  it  must  have 
been  a  relief  to  Fanny  Brawne.  It  was  a  mercy  that  he 
wrote  the  two  days'  epistles  as  one  letter.  This  is  the 
passage  in  question: 

"You  would  delight  very  greatly  in  the  walks  about 
here;  the  Cliffs,  woods,  hills,  sands,  rocks,  &c.  about  here. 
They  are  however  not  so  fine  but  I  shall  give  them  a  hearty 
good  bye  to  exchange  them  for  my  Cathedral.  —  Yet 
again  I  am  not  so  tired  of  Scenery  as  to  hate  Switzerland. 
We  might  spend  a  pleasant  year  at  Berne  or  Zurich  —  if  it 
should  please  Venus  to  hear  my  '  Beseech  thee  to  hear  us  O 
Goddess/  And  if  she  should  hear,  God  forbid  we  should 
what  people  call,  settle  —  turn  into  a  pond,  a  stagnant 
Lethe  —  a  vile  crescent,  row  or  buildings.  Better  be  im- 
prudent moveables  than  prudent  fixtures.  Open  my 
Mouth  at  the  Street  door  like  the  Lion's  head  at  Venice  to 
receive  hateful  cards,  letters,  messages.  Go  out  and  wither 
at  tea  parties;  freeze  at  dinners;  bake  at  dances;  simmer  at 
routs.  No  my  love,  trust  yourself  to  me  and  I  will  find  you 
nobler  amusements,  fortune  favouring." 

Before  leaving  for  Winchester,  Brown  had  gone  off  for  a 
couple  of  days'  tramp,  "gadding  over  the  country  with  his 
ancient  knapsack,"  says  Keats.  It  shows  how  rapidly  writ- 
ing and  reading  were  recapturing  Keats  that  he  could  end 
his  letter  to  Fanny  Brawne  by  saying: 

"Now  I  like  his  society  as  well  as  any  Man's  yet  re- 
gretted his  return  —  it  broke  in  upon  me  like  a  Thunder- 
bolt. I  had  got  in  a  dream  among  my  Books  —  really 
luxuriating  in  a  solitude  and  silence  you  alone  should  have 
disturb'd." 

It  seems  to  have  been  on  August  twelfth,  as  Keats  told 
Fanny  Brawne,  and  not  the  thirteenth,  as  he  had  said  to 
Dilke,  that  he  and  Brown  finally  pulled  up  stakes  and  set 
off  for  Winchester,  going  by  way  of  Newport,  Cowes,  and 


288  JOHN  KEATS 

Southampton.  If  he  stopped  to  consider  it  on  his  journey, 
Keats  may  very  well  have  been  not  a  little  proud  of  the 
work  accomplished  during  the  seven  and  a  half  weeks  he 
had  been  at  Shanklin.  Not  to  count  the  problematic  act 
of  GripuSy  he  had  half  finished  Lamia  and  completed  four 
acts  of  Otho. 

It  was  hard  to  break  into  his  train  of  thought,  but  Win- 
chester was  an  alluring  objective.  It  must  have  been  a 
fine  Summer's  day  for  the  sail  across  to  Southampton,  for 
Keats  sent  a  delightful  description  of  it  to  Fanny  Brawne. 
He  makes  the  scene  extremely  clear,  windy  and  sunny,  and 
what  is  more,  he  links  it  all  up  for  us  historically.  To- 
gether with  Keats  and  his  great  preoccupation,  a  pre- 
occupation entirely  apart  from  locality  or  date,  is  the 
Prince  Regent,  leaving  Brighton  for  an  afternoon  on  the 
water.  Faint  echoes  of  bands,  visions  of  promenaders  on 
esplanades,  of  brightly  varnished  barouches  and  curricles, 
of  spangles,  spurs,  and  uniforms,  come  to  us  out  of  Keats's 
little  sketch.  He  tells  it  simply  with  no  thought  of  sugges- 
tion, its  patina  is  the  growth  of  a  hundred  years.  Here  is 
the  life  which  Keats  never  touched,  but  which  makes  so 
gay  and  tawdry  a  back-drop  to  his  period: 

"One  of  the  pleasantest  things  I  have  seen  lately  was  at 
Cowes.  The  Regent  in  his  Yatch  (I  think  they  spell  it1) 
was  anchored  opposite  —  a  beautiful  vessel  —  and  all  the 
Yatchs  and  boats  on  the  coast  were  passing  and  repassing 
it;  and  circuiting  and  tacking  about  it  in  every  direction  — 
I  never  beheld  anything  so  silent,  light,  and  graceful." 

Reaching  Winchester,  apparently  on  Friday,  August 
thirteenth,  the  friends  speedily  found  "  tolerably  good  and 
cheap  Lodgings,"  but  they  did  not  find  a  library.  This 
was  disappointing,  but  everything  else  was  pleasant. 
Keats  found  Winchester  "an  exceeding  pleasant  Town, 
enriched  with  a  beautiful  Cathedral,  and  surrounded  by  a 

1  This  spelling  was  not  infrequent  in  Keats's  day. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  289 

fresh-looking  country."  This  he  wrote  to  Bailey  after  a 
two  days'  acquaintance  with  it.  The  next  day,  to  Fanny 
Brawne,  he  expressed  himself  as  perfectly  satisfied:  "This 
Winchester  is  a  fine  place  . . .  The  little  coffin  of  a  room  at 
Shanklin  is  exchanged  for  a  large  room,  where  I  can  prom- 
enade at  my  pleasure  —  looks  out  onto  a  beautiful  — 
blank  side  of  a  house.  It  is  strange  that  I  should  like  it 
better  than  the  view  of  the  sea  from  our  room  at  Shanklin/' 
And  finally,  after  two  weeks,  he  was  fairly  in  love  with  it; 
witness  this,  from  a  letter  to  his  sister:  "we  like  it  very 
much:  it  is  the  pleasantest  Town  I  ever  was  in,  and  has  the 
most  recommendations  of  any." 

But  again,  Keats  was  there  to  work.  He  had  taken  the 
bit  in  his  teeth,  and  told  Brown  that  he  would  do  the  fifth 
act  of  Otho  alone;  and  at  it  he  went.  So  absorbed  was  he 
that  it  was  hard  to  wrench  himself  away  to  write  letters. 
It  is  therefore  odd  that  the  first  letter  he  wrote  was  to 
Bailey,  to  whom  he  had  not  written  for  months  and  was 
never  going  to  write  to  again.  But  that  was  a  letter  which 
required  very  little  thought  and  no  emotion  at  all.  It  was 
not  until  the  sixteenth l  that  he  could  bring  himself  to 
write  to  Fanny  Brawne.  Poor  girl,  her  dark  days  were 
upon  her,  as  she  must  soon  have  discovered. 

This  letter  was  almost  brutal  —  almost,  but  not  quite; 
and  yet  I  think  ninety-nine  girls  out  of  a  hundred  would 
have  considered  it  so.  This  is  what  Fanny  Brawne  re- 
ceived, to  make  of  it  what  she  could: 

11  MY  DEAR  GIRL  —  what  shall  I  say  for  myself?  I  have 
been  here  four  days  and  not  yet  written  you  —  'tis  true  I 
have  had  many  teasing  letters  of  business  to  dismiss  — 
and  I  have  been  in  the  Claws,  like  a  serpent  in  an  Eagle's, 
of  the  last  act  of  our  Tragedy.  This  is  no  excuse ;  I  know  it ; 
I  do  not  presume  to  offer  it.  I  have  no  right  either  to  ask 
a  speedy  answer  to  let  me  know  how  lenient  you  are  —  I 

1  Keats  dated  the  letter  "August  17th,"  but  it  is  postmarked  "AU.  16 
1819."  Author's  Collection. 


290  JOHN  KEATS 

must  remain  some  days  in  a  Mist  —  I  see  you  through  a 
Mist:  as  I  daresay  you  do  me  by  this  time.  Believe  in  the 
first  Letters  I  wrote  you:  I  assure  you  I  felt  as  I  wrote  —  I 
could  not  write  so  now.  The  thousand  images  I  have  had 
pass  through  my  brain  —  my  uneasy  spirits  —  my  un- 
guess'd  fate  —  all  spread  as  a  veil  between  me  and  you. 
Remember  I  have  had  no  idle  leisure  to  brood  over  you  — 
'tis  well  perhaps  I  have  not.  I  could  not  have  endured  the 
throng  of  jealousies  that  used  to  haunt  me  before  I  had 
plunged  so  deeply  into  imaginary  interests.  I  would  fain, 
as  my  sails  are  set,  sail  on  without  an  interruption  for  a 
Brace  of  Months  longer  —  I  am  in  complete  cue  —  in  the 
fever;  and  shall  in  these  four  Months  do  an  immense  deal. 
This  Page  as  my  eye  skims  over  it  I  see  is  excessively  un- 
loverlike  and  ungallant  —  I  cannot  help  it  —  I  am  no 
officer  in  yawing  quarters;  no  Parson-romeo.  My  mind  is 
heaped  to  the  full ;  stuff'd  like  a  cricket  ball  —  if  I  strive  to 
fill  it  more  it  would  burst.  I  know  the  generality  of  women 
would  hate  me  for  this;  that  I  should  have  so  unsoften'd, 
so  hard  a  Mind  as  to  forget  them;  forget  the  brightest  re- 
alities for  the  dull  imaginations  of  my  own  Brain.  But  I 
conjure  you  to  give  it  a  fair  thinking;  and  ask  yourself 
whether  'tis  not  better  to  explain  my  feelings  to  you,  than 
write  artificial  Passion.  —  Besides,  you  would  see  through 
it.  It  would  be  vain  to  strive  to  deceive  you.  Tis  harsh, 
harsh,  I  know  it.  My  heart  seems  now  made  of  iron  —  I 
could  not  write  a  proper  answer  to  an  invitation  to  Idalia. 
You  are  my  Judge:  my  forehead  is  on  the  ground." 

It  appears  that  Miss  Brawne  had  bridled  a  little  at 
Keats's  playful  remark  in  his  last  letter  from  Shanklin 
that  she  meant  to  keep  him  to  his  promise  of  running  up 
to  town  to  see  her,  for  he  replies: 

"  You  say  I  may  do  as  I  please —  I  do  not  think  with  any 
conscience  I  can;  my  cash  resources  are  for  the  present 
stopp'd;  I  fear  for  some  time.  I  spend  no  money,  but  it 
increases  my  debts.  I  have  all  my  life  thought  very  little 
of  these  matters  —  they  seem  not  to  belong  to  me.  It  may 
be  a  proud  sentence ;  but  by  Heaven  I  am  as  entirely  above 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  291 

all  matters  of  interest  as  the  Sun  is  above  the  Earth  —  and 
though  of  my  own  money  I  should  be  careless;  of  my 
Friends'  I  must  be  spare.  You  see  how  I  go  on  —  like  so 
many  strokes  of  a  hammer.  I  cannot  help  it  —  I  am  im- 
pell'd,  driven  to  it.  I  am  not  happy  enough  for  silken 
Phrases,  and  silver  sentences.  I  can  no  more  use  soothing 
words  to  you  than  if  I  were  at  this  moment  engaged  in  a 
charge  of  Cavalry." 

In  truth,  the  expression  was  a  just  one.  The  writing  of 
Otho  called  for  much  the  same  qualities  as  a  charge  of 
cavalry  would  have  done:  grit  and  vigour.  He  was  writing 
against  time,  forcing  himself  on  and  on,  looking  neither  to 
the  right  nor  the  left,  keeping  all  his  faculties  pointed  on 
his  objective.  Lamia,  which  was  his  own  and  which  he 
wanted  to  do,  was  as  much  pushed  aside  as  was  Fanny 
Brawne.  He  was  "engaged  in  a  charge  of  cavalry/'  there 
is  the  answer  to  the  letter.  How  necessary  this  concentra- 
tion was  to  him  at  the  moment  becomes  apparent  at  the  end 
of  the  letter.  He  was  as  he  was,  because  things  were  as  they 
were.  This  is  the  final  paragraph: 

"  Forgive  me  for  this  flint-worded  Letter,  and  believe 
and  see  that  I  cannot  think  of  you  without  some  sort  of 
energy  —  though  mal  £  propos.  Even  as  I  leave  off  it 
seems  to  me  that  a  few  more  moments1  thought  of  you 
would  uncrystallize  and  dissolve  me.  I  must  not  give  way 
to  it  —  but  turn  to  my  writing  again  —  if  I  fail  I  shall  die 
hard.  O  my  love,  your  lips  are  growing  sweet  again  to  my 
fancy  —  I  must  forget  them.  Ever  your  affectionate 

KEATS." 

It  had  to  be,  perhaps.  Perpetual  longing  perpetually 
denied  was  too  wracking;  he  felt  it  impossible  to  bear.  Is 
it  to  his  credit,  or  the  reverse,  that  he  could  put  the  thought 
of  Fanny  Brawne  away  from  him  and  immerse  himself  in 
his  writing?  That  is  a  question  impossible  to  answer  with- 
out taking  all  the  many  factors  of  the  case  into  due  con- 
sideration. Probably  the  fairest  judgment  one  can  accord 


292  JOHN  KEATS 

him  is  to  say  that  he  was  mercilessly  selfish,  but  that  he 
was  also  in  a  terrible  situation,  pathological  in  mind  and 
body,  tortured  and  seeking  to  escape  torture  through  the 
opiate  of  work.  I  think,  at  this  time,  that  his  withdrawal 
from  Fanny  Brawne  was  intended  to  be  only  transient; 
later  I  believe  that  it  became  deliberate  with  a  view  to  be- 
coming final,  but  that  we  need  not  discuss  now.  Miss 
Brawne  heard  no  more  from  him  for  a  month,  which  must 
have  been  nothing  short  of  ghastly  for  her.  He  protected 
himself  at  her  expense,  that  is  the  amount  of  it,  and  the 
only  possible  excuse  for  him  is  that  he  acted  through 
ignorance.  That  a  woman  could  love  as  sharply  and  in- 
cisively as  a  man,  was  something  he  could  never  be  made  to 
believe,  and  his  obstinacy  caused  him  much  suffering. 

The  "teasing  letters  of  business"  all  harked  back  to 
George.  Already,  in  Shanklin,  he  had  received  a  letter 
from  George  begging  him  to  see  Abbey  and  squeeze  some 
money  out  of  him  if  possible.  Keats  wrote  and  wrote  again, 
but  Abbey  was  in  an  awkward  fix  and  no  money  was  forth- 
coming. 

While  all  this  turmoil  was  going  on  in  the  mind  of  the 
driven  young  fellow  in  Winchester,  things,  and  even 
pleasant  things,  were  going  on  about  him  elsewhere.  Sir 
James  Mackintosh  had  written  to  Taylor  on  July  nine- 
teenth: "Have  you  any  other  literary  novelties  in  verse? 
I  very  much  admire  your  young  poet  with  all  his  singula- 
rities. Where  is  he?  and  what  high  design  does  he  medi- 
tate?" This  is  a  little  thing,  but  Sir  James  Mackintosh 
was  a  man  of  considerable  force  and  position.  This  next 
is  a  little  thing  too,  but  how  great  a  devotion  it  shows. 
Toward  the  end  of  August,  Taylor  went  to  Retford  in 
Nottinghamshire  on  a  visit  to  his  father.  Before  going,  he 
asked  Woodhouse  to  send  him  a  copy  of  the  Pot  of  Basil  so 
that  he  might  read  it  to  his  family.  In  an  undated  letter  * 

1  Unpublished  letter  from  Woodhouse  to  Taylor.   Woodhouse  Book. 
Morgan  Collection. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  293 

to  him,  Woodhouse  voices   their  joint  opinion  of  the 
poem: 

"  I  bethought  me  on  Saturday  of  my  promise  about  Isa- 
bella, and  took  the  earliest  opportunity  ...  of  enquiring 
whether  you  had  left  out  the  Book  in  which  she  was  to  be 
copied :  but  without  the  least  idea  that  you  had  done  so. 
However,  William  found  it,  and  I  have  copied  the  Basil 
pot  in  it  &  given  it  ...  to  Hessey  along  with  this  letter  to 
forward  to  you  .  .  .  Recollect  that  this  is  the  4*h  time  I 
have  written  it  over,  recollect  also  that  I  could  say  it  by 
heart  with  about  5  promptings;  and  if,  as  really  was  the 
case,  I  went  through  it  with  more  pleasure  than  ever,  one 
of  two  conclusions  is  inevitable:  either  that  it  is  a  noble 
poem,  or  that  my  judgement  is  not  worth  the  tythe  of  a 
fig.  And  I  am  quite  content  to  be  set  down  for  a  dolt  in  the 
opinion  of  that  man  who  should  deny  the  first  of  the  above 
alternatives.  May  those  to  whom  you  show  the  poem  de- 
rive as  much  gratification  from  it  as  I  did." 

Meantime  Otho  the  Great  marched  on  to  a  conclusion. 
We  have  no  more  letters  for  a  week,  and  by  that  time  the 
play  was  finished. 

Otho  is,  after  all,  a  hybrid  performance.  It  would  have 
been  impossible  for  any  man  to  write  a  play  of  unity, 
balance,  and  psychological  interest,  when  he  had  no  idea 
of  its  general  trend  to  start  with,  and  no  clear  conception 
of  the  characters,  whose  actions  throughout  came  upon 
him  piecemeal.  If  Keats  had  not  been  so  impressed  with 
the  idea  that  he  must  make  money,  if  Brown  had  not  been 
so  convinced  that  the  stage  was  his  friend's  surest  means 
of  doing  so,  if  Keats  had  not  been  so  docile  nor  Brown  so 
self-confident,  Otho  would  never  have  been  begun.  As  it  is, 
the  tragedy  was  time  wasted.  The  precious  weeks  spent 
in  grinding  it  out  might  have  given  us  another  story  as 
good  as  Lamia  or  the  fragment  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark, 
indeed,  the  nonfinishing  of  the  latter  tale  is  one  of  the 
greatest  misfortunes  of  Keats's  life. 


294  JOHN  KEATS 

Taken  from  every  point  of  view,  Otho  is  a  failure.  It  is 
dull  beyond  belief,  it  is  unnatural,  perfervid,  and  weak. 
The  verse  is  of  the  type  which  any  capable  rhymester  can 
turn  out  by  the  yard.  Not  once  in  the  whole  play  is  there 
a  turn  of  phrase,  a  trick  of  expression,  a  flash  of  genius,  to 
remind  us  that  the  tragedy  is  by  Keats.  It  is  hack  work 
of  the  most  glaring  variety.  Nearly  every  page  is  marred 
by  verbal  echoes  from  some  poet  or  other;  even  the  plot  is 
pieced  together  from  this  or  that  familiar  play,  although  as, 
until  the  fifth  act,  Brown  was  responsible  for  this  part  of 
the  production,  that  need  not  concern  us  here.  For  all 
these  tides  of  reminiscence,  I  must  refer  my  readers  to  other 
books;1  it  is  enough  to  note  their  existence  in  this.  The 
fifth  act  is  more  dramatic  than  the  rest  of  the  play. 
Ludolph's  insanity,  although  over-hysterical  and  chatter- 
ing in  its  portrayal,  occasionally  touches  upon  a  human 
emotion,  some  slight  suggestion  of  pathos,  a  little  genuine 
feeling.  Possibly  Kean,  for  whom  Keats  designed  the  play, 
could  have  made  Ludolph  convincing  in  this  last  act;  but 
even  Kean  would  have  been  taxed  to  his  utmost  to  keep 
any  audience  interested  during  the  first  four.  To  be  sure, 
audiences  in  Keats's  day  put  up  with  a  good  deal  of  this 
sort  of  stuff.  To  a  modern  reader,  Otho  is  inconceivably 
dreary  and  stupid,  and  the  best  comment  on  its  acting 
qualities  may  be  found  in  the  fact  that  it  has  never  been 
presented  on  any  stage.  Its  history,  so  far  as  Keats  and 
Brown  were  concerned,  was  one  long  disappointment,  but 
the  disappointment  did  not  fall  upon  them  all  at  once,  as  we 
shall  see.  Keats  could  not  believe  that  what  he  had  worked 
so  hard  at  was  really  extremely  poor.  For  once  he  was 
deceived  as  to  the  quality  of  one  of  his  own  things.  He, 
and  we  may  suppose  some  of  his  friends  also,  believed  what 

1  The  principal  books  in  which  these  parallels  may  be  traced  are  The 
Poetical  Works  of  John  Keats,  edited  by  E.  de  S61incourt,  Fourth  Edition; 
and  the  unpublished  thesis:  Shakespeare  and  Keats,  by  Claude  L.  Finney, 
in  the  Widener  Library,  Harvard  University. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  295 

they  wished  to  believe,  and  it  was  a  long  time  before  the 
poverty  of  the  work  was  borne  in  upon  them.  Severn,  for 
one,  believed  in  the  play  till  the  end  of  the  chapter,  which 
was  loyal,  but  not  perspicacious. 

At  this  point,  I  am  enabled,  through  a  concatenation  of 
circumstances,  to  give  several  hitherto  unpublished  letters 
which  throw  much  light  on  Keats's  doings  and  thoughts 
during  the  end  of  August  and  the  early  weeks  of  Septem- 
ber. From  letters  of  Keats,  Woodhouse,  Taylor,  and 
Brown,  all  taken  in  conjunction,  we  gain  a  very  vivid 
picture  of  these  weeks.  I  make  no  scruple,  therefore,  of 
quoting  from  this  correspondence  at  some  length. 

The  first  letter  is  from  Keats.  It  was  published  (prob- 
ably from  a  copy)  in  a  mutilated  condition  by  Buxton 
Forman.  As  so  much  was  left  out  in  his  version,  I  give  the 
letter1  entire: 

"Winchester  Monday  morn 

24  Aug"t2 
MY  DEAR  TAYLOR 

You  will  perceive  that  I  do  not  write  you  till  I  am  forced 
by  necessity:  that  I  am  sorry  for.  You  must  forgive  me  for 
entering  abruptly  on  the  subject,  merely  prefixing  an 
entreaty  that  you  will  not  consider  my  business  manner 
of  wording  and  proceeding  any  distrust  of,  or  standing 
against  you ;  but  put  it  to  the  account  of  a  desire  of  order 
and  regularity.  I  have  been  rather  unfortunate  lately  in 
money  concerns  —  from  a  threatened  chancery  suit.  I 
was  deprived  at  once  of  all  recourse  to  my  Guardian.  I 
relied  a  little  on  some  of  my  debts  being  paid  —  which  are 
of  a  tolerable  amount  —  but  I  have  not  had  one  pound  re- 
funded. For  these  three  months  Brown  has  advanced  me 
money:  he  is  not  at  all  flush  and  I  am  anxious  to  get  some 
elsewhere.  We  have  together  been  engaged  (this  I  should 
wish  to  remain  secret)  in  a  Tragedy  which  I  have  just 
finished;  and  from  which  we  hope  to  share  moderate 
Profits.  Being  thus  far  connected,  Brown  proposed  to  me, 

1  Author's  Collection. 

2  Monday  was  August  23rd.  Keats  seldom  knew  the  day  of  the  month. 


296  JOHN  KEATS 

to  stand  with  me  responsible  for  any  money  you  may 
advance  to  me  to  drive  through  the  summer.  I  must  ob- 
serve again  that  it  is  not  from  want  of  reliance  on  you[r] 
readiness  to  assist  me  that  I  offer  a  Bill ;  but  as  a  relief  to 
myself  from  a  too  lax  sensation  of  Life  —  which  ought  to 
be  responsible  which  requires  chains  for  its  own  sake  — 
duties  to  fulfil  with  the  more  earnestness  the  less  strictly 
they  are  imposed.  Were  I  completely  without  hope  —  it 
might  be  different  —  but  am  I  not  right  to  rejoice  in  the 
idea  of  not  being  Burthensome  to  my  friends?  I  feel  every 
confidence  that  if  I  choose  I  may  be  a  popular  writer;  that 
I  never  will  be;  but  for  all  that  I  will  get  a  livelihood.  I 
equally  dislike  the  favour  of  the  public  with  the  love  of  a 
woman  —  they  are  both  a  cloying  treacle  to  the  wings  of 
independence.  I  shall  ever  consider  them  (People)  as 
debtors  to  me  for  verses,  not  myself  to  them  for  admiration 
—  which  I  can  do  without.  I  have  of  late  been  indulging 
my  spleen  by  composing  a  preface  at  them:  after  all  resolv- 
ing never  to  write  a  preface  at  all.  'There  are  so  many 
verses/  would  I  have  said  to  them,  give  me  so  much  means 
to  buy  pleasure  with  as  a  relief  to  my  hours  of  labour.  You 
will  observe  at  the  end  of  this  if  you  put  down  the  Letter 
4  How  a  solitary  life  engenders  pride  and  egotism ! '  True :  I 
know  it  does  —  but  this  Pride  and  egotism  will  enable  me 
to  write  finer  things  than  anything  else  could  —  so  I  will 
indulge  it.  Just  so  much  as  I  am  humbled  by  the  genius 
above  my  grasp,  am  I  exalted  and  look  with  hate  and  con- 
tempt upon  the  literary  world.  A  Drummer  boy  who  holds 
out  his  hand  familiarly  to  a  field  marshal  —  that  Drummer 
boy  with  me  is  the  good  word  and  favour  of  the  public. 
Who  would  wish  to  be  among  the  commonplace  crowd  of  the 
little-famous  —  who  are  each  individually  lost  in  a  throng 
made  up  of  themselves?  is  this  worth  louting  or  playing  the 
hypocrite  for?  To  beg  suffrages  for  a  seat  on  the  benches  of 
a  myriad-aristocracy  of  Letters?  This  is  not  wise  —  I  am 
not  a  wise  man.  Tis  Pride.  I  will  give  you  a  definition  of  a 
proud  Man.  He  is  a  Man  who  has  neither  vanity  nor 
wisdom  —  one  fill'd  with  hatreds  cannot  be  vain  —  neither 
can  he  be  wise.  Pardon  me  for  hammering  instead  of 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  297 

writing.  Remember  me  to  Woodhouse,  Hessey  and  all  in 
Percy  street. 

Ever  yours  sincerely 
JOHN  KEATS. 

P.S.  I  have  read  what  Brown  has  said  on  the  other  side  — 
He  agrees  with  me  that  this  manner  of  proceeding  might 
appear  too  harsh,  distant  and  indelicate  with  you.  This 
however  will  place  all  in  a  clear  light.  Had  I  to  borrow 
money  of  Brown  and  were  in  your  house,  I  should  request 
the  use  of  your  name  in  the  same  manner." 

The  "doublings"  of  this  letter  are  taken  up  with  a  note 
to  Taylor  from  Brown,  as  follows: 

"DEAR  SIR, 

Keats  has  told  me  the  purport  of  this  letter.  Had  it  been 
in  my  power  to  have  prevented  this  application  to  you,  I 
would  have  done  so.  What  property  I  have  is  locked  up, 
sending  me  quarterly  &  half  yearly  driblets,  insufficient 
for  the  support  of  both  of  us.  I  am  fully  acquainted  with 
his  circumstances,  —  the  monies  owing  to  him  amount  to 
£230,  —  the  chancery  suit  will  not  I  think  eventually  be 
injurious  to  him,  —  and  his  perseverance  in  the  employ- 
ment of  his  talents,  —  will,  in  my  opinion,  in  a  short  time, 
place  him  in  a  situation  more  pleasant  to  his  feelings  as  far 
as  his  pocket  is  concerned.  Yet,  for  all  this,  I  am  aware,  a 
man  of  business  should  have  every  security  in  his  power, 
and  Keats  especially  would  be  uncomfortable  at  borrowing 
unless  he  gave  all  in  his  power;  besides  his  own  name  to  a 
Bill  he  has  now  to  offer  but  mine,  which  I  readily  agree  to, 
and  (speaking  in  a  business-like  way)  consider  I  possess 
ample  security  for  doing  so.  It  is  therefore  to  be  considered 
as  a  matter  of  right  on  your  part  to  demand  my  name  in 
conjunction  with  his;  and  if  you  should  be  inclined  to  judge 
otherwise,  still  it  would  be  painful  to  him  not  to  give  you  a 
double  security  when  he  can  do  so,  &  painful  to  me  to  have 
it  withheld  when  it  ought  to  be  given. 

Yours  sincerely, 

CHAS  BROWN." 


298  JOHN  KEATS 

Keats,  as  we  have  noticed  before,1  was  not  skilful  in  the 
composition  of  begging  letters.  It  was  one  thing  to  ask  the 
return  of  a  loan,  but  quite  another  to  approach  someone  on 
whom  he  had  no  possible  claim.  It  hurt  his  pride  to  do  it, 
and  with  the  worst  possible  taste  he  allowed  his  pride  to 
grow  mile  high,  because  of  its  very  injury,  until  it  quite 
over-topped  whatever  other  sentiments  the  letter  con- 
tained. Taylor  was  not  in  Fleet  Street  when  this  remark- 
able epistle  arrived,  he  was  at  his  father's  at  Retford,  so 
the  letter  was  forwarded.  This  occasioned  some  delay,  and 
his  subsequent  correspondence  with  Woodhouse  on  the 
subject  caused  more.  Meanwhile  Keats,  having  posted 
his  request,  sat  down  to  wait,  with  what  composure  he 
could  muster. 

On  Wednesday,  August  twenty-fifth,  he  wrote  to  Rey- 
nolds in  much  the  same  strain  that  he  had  written  to  Taylor. 
He  declares  himself  convinced  of  his  power  to  become  a 
popular  writer,  but  with  a  fine  gesture  refuses  "  the  poison- 
ous suffrage  of  a  public."  But  to  Reynolds  he  can  expand, 
and  he  does.  After  suggesting  to  Reynolds  that  Rice,  to 
whom  he  has  just  written,2  will  tell  Reynolds  all  about  the 
removal  from  Shanklin,  and  how  he,  Keats,  likes  Win- 
chester, he  continues:  "I  have  indeed  scarcely  anything 
else  to  say  .  .  .  except  I  was  to  give  you  a  history  of  sensa- 
tions, and  day-nightmares. "  He  is  willing  to  go  so  far  as 
to  announce: 

"my  thoughts  and  feelings  which  are  of  the  selfish  nature, 
home  speculations,  every  day  continue  to  make  me  more 
iron  —  I  am  convinced  more  and  more,  every  day,  that 
fine  writing  is,  next  to  fine  doing,  the  top  thing  in  the  world ; 
the  Paradise  Lost  becomes  a  greater  wonder." 

Keats  is  both  encouraged  and  as  blue  as  indigo,  and 
these  two  sensations  are  simultaneous,  or  so  nearly  so  that 
I  doubt  if  he  himself  could  disentangle  them.  The  last 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  464.  2  This  letter  appears  to  be  lost. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  299 

half  of  the  letter  is  taken  up  with  this  pathetic  bit  of  self- 
revelation: 

"The  soul  is  a  world  of  itself,  and  has  enough  to  do  in  its 
own  home.  Those  whom  I  know  already,  and  who  have 
grown  as  it  were  a  part  of  myself,  I  could  not  do  without: 
but  for  the  rest  of  mankind,  they  are  as  much  a  dream  to 
me  as  Milton's  Hierarchies.  I  think  if  I  had  a  free  and 
healthy  and  lasting  organization  of  heart,  and  lungs  as 
strong  as  an  ox's,  so  as  to  be  able  to  bear  unhurt  the  shock 
of  extreme  thought  and  sensation  without  weariness,  I 
could  pass  my  life  very  nearly  alone  though  it  should  last 
eighty  years.  But  I  feel  my  body  too  weak  to  support  me 
to  the  height,  I  am  obliged  continually  to  check  myself, 
and  be  nothing.  It  would  be  vain  for  me  to  endeavour  after 
a  more  reasonable  manner  of  writing  to  you.  I  have 
nothing  to  speak  of  but  myself,  and  what  can  I  say  but 
what  I  feel?  If  you  should  have  any  reason  to  regret  this 
state  of  excitement  in  me,  I  will  turn  the  tide  of  your  feel- 
ings in  the  right  Channel,  by  mentioning  that  it  is  the  only 
state  for  the  best  sort  of  Poetry  —  that  is  all  I  care  for,  all 
I  live  for.  Forgive  me  for  not  filling  up  the  whole  sheet; 
Letters  become  so  irksome  to  me,  that  the  next  time  I 
leave  London  I  shall  petition  them  all  to  be  spared  me.  To 
give  me  credit  for  constancy,  and  at  the  same  time  waive 
letter  writing  will  be  the  highest  indulgence  I  can  think  of." 

What  a  different  man  is  this  from  the  gregarious  young 
fellow  of  two  and  a  half  years  before,  of  Hunt's  parlour 
and  Haydon's  studio!  That  he  felt  himself  to  be  ill,  is 
quite  evident,  and  that  he  found  absence  from  Fanny 
Brawne  such  a  strain  that  his  only  way  of  combating  it 
was  to  try  and  smother  the  thought  of  her  by  any  means 
in  his  power.  Keats's  diagnosis  of  his  mental  state  was 
wrong,  so  much  we  can  be  very  sure  from  his  comparative 
peace  and  happiness  in  April  and  May  when  he  and  Miss 
Brawne  were  seeing  each  other  daily.  In  remembrance, 
this  seemed  a  time  of  aroused  desires  constantly  thwarted, 
and  as  such  he  feared  not  only  to  face  it,  but  to  think  of  it. 


300  JOHN  KEATS 

But  retrospective  memories  are  liable  to  strange  distor- 
tions. As  he  had  lived  those  months,  they  had  given  him 
much  besides  misery.  Now  he  had  forgotten,  and  was 
almost  consciously  pushing  himself  into  the  conviction 
that  poetry  was  enough  for  him,  which,  as  the  sequel 
shows,  it  most  emphatically  was  not.  He  was  self-deceived 
in  perfect  good  faith,  it  is  true,  but  a  poor  dupe  neverthe- 
less, and  an  immolated  victim  of  symptoms  which  neither 
he  nor  any  one  else  had  the  wit  to  assign  to  their  real  cause. 

To  add  its  quota  to  the  cloudy  outlook,  he  and  Brown 
heard  a  rumour  that  Kean  was  to  go  to  America  for  the 
Winter.  If  so,  what  would  happen  to  the  tragedy?  This 
news  descended  upon  them  just  as  Brown  was  copying 
Otho  "  in  a  superb  style  —  better  than  it  deserves."  "  I  had 
hoped  to  give  Kean  another  opportunity  to  shine,"  he  tells 
his  sister  with  wry  humour.  "  What  can  we  do  now  ?  There 
is  not  another  actor  of  Tragedy  in  all  London  or  Europe. 
The  Covent  Garden  Company  is  execrable."  There  was 
nothing  to  do,  so  far  as  the  tragedy  went,  but  for  Brown 
to  continue  to  copy  it;  and  nothing  for  Keats  to  do  but  set 
himself  to  work  on  Lamia,  and  saunter  round  Winchester 
in  "the  delightful  Weather  we  have  had  for  two  Months." 
As  for  his  walks,  "a  Mile  a  day"  was,  he  declared  "quite 
sufficient,"  still  he  regretted  not  having  "  been  well  enough 
to  bathe  though  I  have  been  two  Months  by  the  sea  and 
live  now  close  to  delicious  bathing."  Yes,  there  was  one 
other  thing  he  could  do,  which  was  to  count  his  ebbing 
store  of  shillings  and  pence  every  day  and  wonder  why  on 
earth  Taylor  did  not  answer. 

The  reason  for  Taylor's  silence  was  that  he  could  not 
make  up  his  mind  just  what  course  to  take.  He  did  not  like 
the  tone  of  Keats's  letter  —  it  would  have  been  miraculous 
if  he  had  —  and  he  feared  to  make  a  hasty  decision.  Know- 
ing himself  of  a  much  less  understanding  and  conciliatory 
temper  than  his  friend  Woodhouse,  and  realizing  Wood- 
house's  deep  sympathy  with  Keats,  Taylor,  who  must  have 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  301 

been  an  unusually  temperate  and  just  man,  sent  the  ques- 
tionable letter  to  Woodhouse  and  asked  his  opinion. 
Taylor's  letter  has  not  come  to  light,  but  Woodhouse's 
reply1  to  it  has.  I  quote  those  parts  of  it  which  refer  to 
Keats.  It  is  dated:  "Temple,  Tuesday  Evg.  31,  Augt 
1819." 

"Though  I  have  let  a  post  elapse,  I  apprehend  this  letter, 
which  will  go  in  a  parcel  to  you,  will  reach  you  as  soon  as 
Keats's  answer.  I  have  read  his  Letter;  and  I  did  it  before 
I  had  read  yours,  and  with  my  usual  disposition  to  under- 
stand his  terms  in  that  sense  in  which  he  uses  them.  Now 
I  apprehend  his  word  Pride  to  mean  nothing  more  than 
literary  Pride,  —  that  disposition  which  arises  out  of  a 
Consciousness  of  superior  &  improving  poetical  Powers,  & 
which  would  keep  him,  even  in  his  present  state  of  compar- 
ative imperfectness,  from  writing  so  as  to  minister  to  the 
depraved  taste  of  the  age.  It  is  not  in  my  opinion  personal 
pride,  but  literary  pride  which  his  letter  shews;  —  That  he 
has  some  of  the  former  also,  I  believe;  But  his  letter  does 
not  evince  it,  further  than  as  it  displays  a  solitary  spirit. 
The  Pride  contained  in  his  letter,  as  I  understand  it,  is  a 
noble  pride,  akin  to  that  Indication  which  Milton  pours 
forth  in  language  of  such  "solemn  tenour  &  deep  organ 
tone"  at  the  beginning  of  his  2d  book  on  "the  reason  of 
Ch.  Government."  and  for  which  I  honor  him.  And  I  am 
not  quite  certain  whether  your  Post  Script  was  not  added 
in  consequence  of  a  new  ray  of  light  breaking  in  upon  you 
on  this  subject.  Is  he  wrong  to  be  dissatisfied  with  the 
Prospect  of  a  mere  'Seat  on  the  Bench  of  a  myriad- 
aristocracy  in  Letters'?  or  to  keep  aloof  from  them  and 
their  works,  —  or  to  dislike  the  favor  of  such  a  *  public,' 
as  bepraises  the  Crabbes,  &  the  Barretts,  &  the  Codruses 
of  the  day.  I  wonder  how  he  came  to  stumble  upon  that 
deep  truth  that '  people  are  debtors  to  him  for  his  verses  & 
not  he  to  them  for  admiration . '  Methinks  such  a  conviction 
on  any  one's  mind  is  enough  to  make  half  a  Milton  of  him. 

I  agree  with  you  in  every  syllable  you  say  about  Pride. 
But  I  do  not  think  it  applies  to  Keats,  as  he  shews  himself 

1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Collection. 


302  JOHN  KEATS 

in  his  letter.  And  if  you  were  to  cull  out  a  person  upon 
whom  to  fit  your  summary  of  the  whole  (neither  self  praise 
nor  man's  praise  can  turn  the  scale  either  way,  —  nor  can 
unmerited  neglect  or  censure  weight  a  feather)  I  think,  as 
far  as  Poetry  is  concerned,  that  very  man  would  be  Keats 
as  evidenced  in  his  letter. 

Having  complied  with  your  wish  of  telling  you  what  I 
thought  of  his  letter,  I  come  now  to  his  request.  I  doubt 
whether  he  will  want  so  much  as  you  mention.  I  appre- 
hend so£  or  6o£  would  suffice  him,  but  this  his  next  letter 
will  shew.  I  think  I  mentioned  to  you  how  I  was  situated 
as  to  Cash,  that  I  had  scraped  all  I  could  together,  to  pay 
my  Father,  whose  two  calls  lately  had  run  him  close.  That 
I  expected  nothing  till  winter,  and  had  made  my  calcu- 
lation upon  wanting  little  till  that  time.  Under  these 
circumstances  I  could  not  command  £100.  But  I  can 
spare  £50.  which  shall  be  at  your  disposal,  at  what  time  & 
place  you  think  proper.  You  are  well  acquainted  with  my 
good  wishes  towards  Keats,  as  well  as  with  their  complete 
disinterestedness.  Whatever  People  regret  that  they  could 
not  do  for  Shakespeare  or  Chatterton,  because  he  did  not 
live  in  their  time,  that  I  would  embody  into  a  Rational 
principle,  and  (with  due  regard  to  certain  expediences)  do 
for  Keats.  But  one's  means  are  not  unlimited,  and  one 
would  not  wish  to  give  rise  to  expectations,  which  should 
end  in  disappointment,  nor  would  one  like  to  have  the  oats 
eaten  by  other  cattle.  I  wish  he  could  be  cured  of  the  vice 
of  lending  —  for  in  a  poor  man,  it  is  a  vice. 

I  think  with  you  about  the  offer  of  Brown's  name,  and 
about  the  nonsense  of  the  note.  But  would  it  be  or  not 
beneficial  to  K.  that  it  should  be  taken?  And  is  any  part  of 
the  money  to  go  to  Brown?  The  sum  will  perhaps  enable 
you  to  judge. 

Hessey  spoke  about  Keats's  letter,  &  wants,  &  quoted 
your  intimation  to  him,  so  that  I  could  not  do  less  than 
say  he  should  see  the  letter.  He  will  not '  peach'  about  the 
Tragedy,  and  there  is  no  other  secret  in  it.  I  think  to  shew 
him  your  letter  too.  Perhaps  he  may  think  with  me,  and 
contrary  to  you,  that  the  obligation  to  K.  may  prove 
beneficial  to  'the  business.' 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  303 

I  can  say  nothing  about  what  is  best  to  be  done,  for  K.  I 
am  tempest  tost  on  the  subject,  and  even  with  the  light  of 
his  next  letter  I  may  be  as  much  in  the  dark.  I  think  (and 
you  need  not  make  a  bow  for  the  compliment)  that  you 
are  the  prudenter  man  of  the  two,  to  judge  in  this  case. 
But  take  this  with  you.  Ist  I  really  can't  spare  more  'as  in 
presenti,'  than  the  sum  I  have  named.  And  2d  my  friend- 
ship for  the  poor  fellow  wod  willingly  go,  if  need  is,  greater 
lengths  than  merely  lending  you  money  to  lend  him. 

I  shall  be  out  of  town  in  about  10  days,  but  I  can  send 
you  (or  Hessey)  a  draft  from  any  place  .  .  . 

I  like  Brown's  few  lines  much." 

At  the  end  of  the  letter,  Woodhouse  says: 

"Reynolds  is  off,  but  before  he  went  he  called  and  left 
me  the  Sonnet  —  and  a  letter  he  had  received  from  Keats. 
I  send  it  to  you:  It  will  be  a  Comment  on  parts  of  his  to 
you." 

The  sonnet  cannot  be  traced,  it  may  not  have  been  by 
Keats  at  all;  the  letter  to  Reynolds  is  most  certainly  the 
one  from  which  I  have  just  quoted. 

It  appears  from  this  letter  as  though  Woodhouse  thought 
that  Taylor  had  written  something  to  Keats  without 
waiting  for  his,  Woodhouse's,  reply,  but  Taylor  seems  to 
have  been  too  cautious  for  that.  Keats  waited  for  over  a 
week  and  no  answer  came.  No  answer  came  from  any  of 
the  letters  he  had  written,  even  the  Examiner  ceased  to 
arrive,  and  he  and  Brown  relied  on  that  for  information 
about  Kean's  plans.  By  Tuesday,  August  thirty-first,1  he 
could  stand  it  no  longer  and  wrote  to  Taylor  again. 

This  letter  is  also  mutilated  in  the  Buxton  Forman 
editions,  and  even  in  the  unmutilated  part  is  incorrect, 
but  as  these  textual  inaccuracies  are  slight,  I  will  quote 
only  the  last  part  of  the  letter,  most  of  which  is  published 
for  the  first  time.  I  copy  from  the  letter 2  itself: 

1  Keats  dated  the  letter  "Sept.  i,  1819,"  but  there  are  two  postmarks 
on  it,  one  "AU.  31,  1819,"  the  other  "SE.  I,  1819." 

2  Author's  Collection. 


304  JOHN  KEATS 

"Why  I  should  come  on  you  with  all  these  complaints, 
I  cannot  explain  to  myself:  especially  as  I  suspect  you 
must  be  in  the  Country.  Do  answer  me  soon  for  I  really 
must  know  something.  I  must  steer  myself  by  the  rudder 
of  Information.  And  I  am  in  want  of  a  Month's  cash  — 
now  believe  me  I  do  not  apply  to  you  as  if  I  thought  you 
had  a  gold  Mine:  no  —  I  understand  these  matters  well 
enough  now  having  become  well  acquainted  with  the  dis- 
bursements every  Man  is  tempted  to  make  beyond  his 
means.  From  this  time  I  have  resolved  myself  to  refuse 
all  such  requests:  tell  me  you  are  not  flush  and  I  shall 
thank  you  heartily.  That  is  a  duty  you  owe  to  yourself  as 
well  as  to  me  I  have  mulcted  Brown  to[o]  much :  let  it  be 
my  last  sin  of  the  kind.  I  will  try  what  use  it  will  be  to 
insist  on  my  debts  being  paid/' 

Before  Taylor  had  a  chance  to  receive  this,  he  had  acted 
by  writing  to  Woodhouse  that  he  thought  fifty  pounds 
might  be  appropriated  to  Keats,  but  only  thirty  sent  him, 
and  by  writing  to  Keats  to  expect  a  remittance.  Wood- 
house  is  our  informant  about  the  transaction,  for  he  wrote 
to  Taylor  on  Tuesday,  the  seventh,  as  follows: 

1 "  I  was  favoured  with  your  last  on  Saturday,  &  saw  off 
a  Bk.p.  Bill  for  so£  to  Keats.  Hessey  holds  the  rest  at  his 
disposal.  The  funds  of  this  Beaumont  &  Fletcher  pair  .  .  . 
were  at  a  low,  —  verily  at  a  silver,  ebb.  But,  with  your 
supply,  there  came  an  announcement  that  some  Cash  had 
gone  to  Chichester,  by  mistake,  in  payment  of  one  of  the 
Debts  due  to  K.  so  that  he  was  quite  flush." 

It  was  certainly  generous  of  Woodhouse  to  call  it  "your 
supply"  to  Taylor,  when  it  was  his  own  money  all  the 
time.  Woodhouse's  delicacy  in  realizing  that  it  would  be 
easier  for  Keats  to  accept  a  loan  from  his  publishers  than 
from  him  was  admirable.  One  likes  Woodhouse  more  and 
more  the  better  one  knows  him.  And  his  generosity  did  not 
stop  here,  he  made  plans.  Later  in  this  letter,  he  says: 

1  Woodhouse  Book.  Morgan  Collection. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  305 

"  If  my  plans  for  the  Summer  were  not  laid  past  altera- 
tion ;  I  wod  go  upon  a  poetical  spree :  into  France  to  pick  up 
bits  of  Provencal  &  old  Poetry  etc.  Or  wod  it  not  be  better 
to  'miser  it*  till  next  Summer  so  as  to  afford  to  take  J.K. 
with  me  —  and  should  you  like  to  trust  your  personage 
with  us?  But  we  have  plenty  of  time  to  think  of  it." 

Time!  Time!  There  was  no  time,  already  it  was  too  late. 
But  what  a  pity  that  circumstances  might  not  have  given 
Keats  this  spree  and  with  these  men. 

The  letter  from  which  Woodhouse  got  the  information 
which  he  handed  on  to  Taylor  was  one  written  by  Keats  to 
Hessey.1  It  has  never  been  printed,  so  I  give  it  in  full. 

"Winchester,  Sunday  Sept.  5th. 
MY  DEAR  HESSEY, 

I  received  this  morning  yours  of  yesterday  enclosing  a 
3o£  bank  post  bill.  I  have  been  in  fear  of  the  Winchester 
Jail  for  some  time:  neither  Brown  nor  myself  could  get  an 
answer  from  any  one.  This  morning  I  hear  that  some  un- 
known part  of  a  Sum  due,  to  me  and  for  which  I  had  been 
waiting  three  weeks  has  been  sent  to  Chichester  by  mis- 
take. Brown  has  borrowed  money  of  a  friend  of  his  in 
Hampshire.  A  few  days  ago  we  had  a  few  shillings  left  — 
and  now  between  us  we  have  6o£  besides  what  is  waiting 
in  the  Chichester  post  office.  To  be  a  complete  Midas  I 
suppose  some  one  will  send  me  a  pair  of  asses  ears  by  the 
waggon.  There  has  been  such  an  embargo  laid  on  our 
correspondence  that  I  can  scarcely  believe  your  letter  was 
only  dated  yesterday.  It  seems  miraculous. 

Ever  yours  sincerely, 
JOHN  KEATS 

I  am  sorry  to  hear  such  a  bad  account  of  himself  from 
Taylor." 

The  man  who  had  sent  the  money  to  Chichester  was 
Haslam,  who  was  paying  back  part  of  a  sum  formerly 
borrowed  of  George. 

1  Author's  Collection. 


306  JOHN  KEATS 

On  this  same  Sunday,  Keats  wrote  again,  in  duty  bound, 
to  Taylor.  The  information  that  Taylor  was  far  from  well, 
set  Keats  off  upon  a  dissertation  which  might  almost  be 
called  medical.  The  man  who  could  so  interest  himself  in  a 
scientific  subject  might  surely  have  turned  his  attention  to 
science  if  other  things  had  not  claimed  him  even  more  im- 
periously. In  dealing  with  Keats,  one  must  always  re- 
member that,  with  him,  it  was  never  other  things  less,  but 
simply  poetry  more.  If  legend  were  all  we  had  to  test  his 
quality,  this  fact  alone  would  prove  him  among  the  major 
poets.  Because  this  passage  is  important  as  an  illustration 
of  one  side  of  his  nature,  his  mind,  I  quote  a  part  of  it  here: 

lUYou  will  find  the  country  air  do  more  for  you  than 
you  expect.  But  it  must  be  proper  country  air  ...  You 
should  live  in  a  dry,  gravelly,  barren,  elevated  country 
open  to  the  currents  of  air,  and  such  a  place  is  generally 
furnished  with  the  finest  springs.  The  neighbourhood  of  a 
rich  inclosed  fulsome  arable  Land  especially  in  a  val- 
ley and  almost  as  bad  on  a  flat,  would  be  almost  as  bad 
as  the  smoke  of  fleet  street.  Such  a  place  as  this  was 
shanklin  only  open  to  the  south  east  and  surrounded  by 
hills  in  every  other  direction.  From  this  south  east  came 
the  damps  from  the  sea  which  having  no  egress  the  air 
would  for  days  together  take  on  an  unhealthy  idiosyncrasy 
altogether  enervating  and  weakening  as  a  city  Smoke  — 
I  felt  it  very  much.  Since  I  have  been  at  Winchester  I 
have  been  improving  in  health  —  it  is  not  so  confined  — 
and  there  is  on  one  side  of  the  city  a  dry  chalky  down 
where  the  air  is  worth  sixpence  a  pint.  So  if  you  do  not  get 
better  at  Retford  do  not  impute  it  to  your  own  weakness 
before  you  have  well  considered  the  nature  of  the  air  and 
soil." 

This  leads  on  to  a  consideration  of  the  effects  of  agri- 
culture on  character,  in  which,  however,  we  will  not  follow 
him.  A  little  later,  he  thanks  Taylor  for  coming  to  his  aid, 
and  has  the  grace  to  say:  "Had  I  known  of  your  illness 

1  Corrected  from  the  original  letter.  Author's  Collection. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  307 

I  should  not  have  written  in  such  fiery  phrase  in  my  first 
letter."  One  sentence  at  the  end  of  this  letter  is  arresting, 
he  has  been  speaking  of  Otho  which  he  hopes  Taylor  "will 
not  think  labour  misspent,"  and  adds: 

" Since  I  finish 'd  it  I  have  finish 'd  Lamia:  and  am  now 
occupied  in  revising  St.  Agnes'  Eve ...  I  will  cross  the 
letter  with  some  lines  from  Lamia. " 

Lamia  is  commonly  spoken  of  as  having  been  written  at 
the  same  time  as  Othoy  dove-tailing  in  with  it,  as  it  were. 
But  a  careful  study  of  the  letters  makes  it  evident  that  this 
was  not  the  case.  Part  I  of  Lamia  was  finished  before 
Brown's  arrival  at  Shanklin,  and  from  the  moment  of  the 
starting  upon  Otho  Keats  devoted  himself  entirely  to  the 
tragedy  until  it  was  done,  only  after  that  returning  to  his 
neglected  poem.  But  he  returned  to  it  with  such  zest  as  to 
accomplish  the  three  hundred  odd  lines  of  Part  II  in  short 
order. 

About  one  thing  we  must  make  no  mistake;  Lamia  was 
certainly  planned,  or,  at  least,  registered  as  a  possible 
subject  for  a  narrative  poem,  before  Keats  left  Hampstead. 
He  had  even  talked  about  it  with  Reynolds,  as  is  proved  by 
his  mention  of  it  in  his  letter  from  Shanklin  as  something 
which  Reynolds  had  already  heard  of.  Realizing  this,  we 
need  not  be  surprised  that  the  form  of  the  poem  is  some- 
what different  from  anything  he  had  attempted  before;  it 
came  as  the  tag  end  of  his  experimental  orgy,  and  was 
conceived  as  another  experiment.  In  this  instance,  the 
experiment  was  one  of  form.  Keats  was  not  striking  out 
any  new  paths,  he  was  merely  permitting  himself  a  stroll  on 
someone  else's  property  where  he  had  not  happened  to 
wander  before.  Brown  told  Lord  Houghton  that  Keats 
wrote  Lamia  "with  great  care  after  much  study  of  Dryden's 
versification."  Commenting  on  this,  Professor  de  Selin- 
court  has  written: l  "The  versification  is  closely  modelled 

1  The  Poems  of  John  Keats,  edited  by  E.  de  Selincourt. 


3o8  JOHN  KEATS 

upon  the  Fables  of  Dryden,  from  which  Keats  learnt  how  to 
relate  his  metre  with  his  sentence  structure  and  to  use  both 
the  triplet  and  the  Alexandrine  with  striking  success."  Pro- 
fessor de  S61incourt's  "striking  success"  is,  I  think,  a  little 
too  strong.  Keats  sometimes  employs  these  devices  hap- 
pily, but  at  other  times  his  use  of  them  is  decidedly  clumsy. 
The  effect  of  a  triplet,  or  an  alexandrine,  breaking  into  a 
block  of  heroic  couplets  is  to  bring  a  sense  of  pause,  even 
amounting  sometimes  to  a  definite  feeling  of  finality,  to  the 
passage  so  treated.  To  use  either  of  these  devices  when 
no  such  effect  is  intended,  mars  the  consecutive  flow  of  the 
passage  in  which  they  appear  and  injures  its  rhythm.  Too 
often  in  Lamia  we  find  Keats  committing  this  blunder. 
This  is  due  to  his  inexpertness  in  handling  a  very  valuable 
rhythmical  contrivance  with  which  he  is  not  yet  quite  fa- 
miliar. Lamia  is  a  tempting  study  to  the  technician,  but 
I  must  not  let  myself  be  beguiled  into  anything  of  the 
sort  here.  There  are  other,  more  important,  aspects  of  the 
poem  to  consider  just  now. 

The  source  of  Lamia,  we  know.  Keats  wrote  it  at  the  end 
of  the  first  page  of  his  fair  copy  of  the  poem,  which  is  still 
in  existence.1  He  ran  across  the  story  in  Burton's  Anatomy 
of  Melancholy,  and,  strangely  enough,  it  is  one  of  the  only 
two  stories  throughout  that  work  which  lend  themselves  to 
poetical  treatment.  Having  stumbled  on  his  plot,  Keats 
found  it  enormously  to  his  liking  in  the  temper  he  was  in. 
It  deals  with  the  crushing  effect  of  reality  when  brought 
into  conflict  with  dream.  What  if  Lamia  were  an  en- 
chantress, what  if  her  true  form  were  that  of  a  snake,  what 
if  her  gifts  were  illusion,  is  it  not  better  to  dwell  in  igno- 
rance and  illusion,  if  these  things  bring  happiness,  than  to 
see  by  the  cold,  cruel,  stark  light  of  truth?  We  need  not 
scoff  at  the  question,  for  is  it  not,  after  all,  rather  difficult 
to  answer?  Remember  Keats's  Paolo  and  Francesca 
dream,  and  how  he  had  longed  to  dream  it  every  night; 
1  Bemis  Collection. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW 


309 


remember  the  soothing  vision  which  the  nightingale's  song 
had  brought  him.  He  was  encompassed  by  dangers  and 
difficulties  in  his  waking  life,  but  dreaming  was  his  heritage; 
should  he,  must  he,  eschew  it,  must  he  play  the  scornful, 
keen-eyed  philosopher  to  his  own  imaginative  joys?  He 
solves  nothing  in  his  tale,  unless  the  fact  that  Lycius  dies  is 
a  solution.  But  even  here  the  question  persists,  for  is  the 
death  of  Lycius  due  to  the  fact  that  he  has  discovered 
Lamia's  true  status,  or  simply  the  result  of  her  being  torn 
from  him  ?  Keats  has  no  answer  to  give,  the  puzzle  is  as 
much  his  as  his  readers'. 

I  have  dealt  with  the  substratum  of  the  poem  first,  but 
we  must  not  forget  the  superstructure.  On  the  surface, 
Lamia  is  a  story,  a  very  captivating  and  excellent  story. 
And  it  is  a  story  of  Greece,  that  charming  Elizabethan  con- 
ception of  Greece  which  always  enchanted  Keats.  With 
Dryden  as  a  distantly  related  godfather  to  his  undertaking, 
Keats  boldly  steps  into  his  tale.  The  speed  with  which 
he  narrates  it  is  something  new  to  him.  It  owes  much  of  its 
success  to  its  briefness  and  swiftness,  and  even  its  odd 
lapses  back  into  the  sentimentality  of  his  early  work,  re- 
grettable though  these  are,  cannot  take  away  from  the 
firmness  and  solidity  which  is  a  marked  effect  of  the  direct- 
ness of  the  whole. 

Lamia  is  by  no  means  such  a  marvel  of  homogeneous 
treatment  as  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes;  it  is  no  such  perfection  of 
evocative  reticence  as  the  fragment  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark. 
It  stands  midway  in  his  stories,  and  seems  to  tie  his  younger 
and  his  older  selves  together  by  including  within  it  bits 
of  both.  It  speaks  volumes  for  the  excellent  poetry  of  a 
great  deal  of  it,  and  the  dramatic  quality  of  the  whole,  that, 
in  spite  of  the  lapses  of  which  I  have  spoken,  the  interest  in 
it  never  even  so  much  as  wavers  throughout.  Certain  lines 
of  the  poem  are  in  Keats's  best  and  most  original  vein.  For 
instance,  when  Lamia  arrives  near  Corinth: 


3io  JOHN  KEATS 

".  .  .  There  she  stood 
About  a  young  bird's  flutter  from  a  wood." 

Or  this,  when  he  is  speaking  of  the  city: 

"  As  men  talk  in  a  dream,  so  Corinth  all, 
Throughout  her  palaces  imperial, 
And  all  her  populous  streets  and  temples  lewd, 
Mutter'd,  like  tempest  in  the  distance  brew'd, 
To  the  wide-spreaded  night  above  her  towers." 

Or  the  mention  of  the  passers-by  in  the  streets,  who 
"Shuffled  their  sandals  o'er  the  pavement  white." 

Keats  knew  the  excellent  effect  of  his  "shuffled";  he 
employed  it  again  in  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark. 

Nowhere  has  Keats  used  his  extraordinary  sense  of  colour 
with  more  skill  than  in  Lamia.  What  could  be  better  than 
this  description  of  the  serpent? 

"She  was  a  gordian  shape  of  dazzling  hue, 
Vermillion-spotted,  golden,  green,  and  blue; 
Striped  like  a  zebra,  freckled  like  a  pard, 
Eyed  like  a  peacock,  and  all  crimson  barr'd ; 
And  full  of  silver  moons,  that,  as  she  breathed, 
Dissolv'd,  or  brighter  shone,  or  interwreathed 
Their  lustres  with  the  gloomier  tapestries  — 
So  rain-bow  sided,  touch 'd  with  miseries, 

Upon  her  crest  she  wore  a  wannish  fire 
Sprinkled  with  stars,  like  Ariadne's  tiar." 

Here  is  another  passage,  where  the  reflection  of  a  bright 
light  in  polished  marble  is  exactly  evoked  by  one  miracu- 
lous epithet: 

"A  pillar'd  porch,  with  lofty  portal  door, 
Where  hung  a  silver  lamp,  whose  phosphor  glow 
Reflected  in  the  slabbed  steps  below, 
Mild  as  a  star  in  water." 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  311 

For  the  mingling  of  line  with  colour,  as  well  as  an  illustra- 
tion of  Keats's  keen  sense  of  proportion,  the  description  of 
the  banqueting-hall  is  exceptionally  fine  even  when  we 
compare  it  to  his  other  work  of  the  sort.  It  should  be  read 
first  for  pleasure,  but  afterwards  with  an  eye  for  these 
qualities,  since  the  passage  reveals  its  full  beauty  only 
when  we  take  note  of  them. 

As  a  postscript  to  this  Sunday  letter  to  Taylor,  Keats 
wrote:  "Brown  is  going  to  Chister  and  Bedhampton  a 
visiting.  I  shall  be  alone  here  for  three  weeks."  It  was 
probably  on  Monday  or  Tuesday  that  Brown  started  off  on 
what  purported  to  be  a  visit  to  old  Mr.  Dilke  and  the 
Snooks.  He  did  go  to  both  these  places,  but  he  went  some- 
where else  too,  and  of  this  somewhere  he  told  Keats  nothing, 
indeed  there  is  every  reason  to  believe  that  he  never  told 
him.  It  was  during  this  three  weeks  that  he  went  over  to 
Ireland  and  contracted  the  illegal  marriage  with  Abigail 
Donohue.1  Why  Brown  did  not  confide  in  Keats  is  obvious; 
Keats  was  an  unusually  honourable  man,  and  he  would 
never  have  countenanced  Brown's  dastardly  behaviour. 
He  would  either  have  made  Brown  marry  the  woman  in 
earnest  or  have  broken  with  him  for  good;  he  had  broken 
with  Bailey  for  far  less.  What  a  blow  like  this  would  have 
meant  to  Keats  at  this  juncture,  it  is  horrible  to  think;  and 
yet  to  know  him  so  much  cheated  in  the  quality  of  his  friend 
is  very  unpleasant  also.  Brown's  other  friends,  who  learnt 
of  this  episode  in  his  life  much  later,  after  Keats's  death, 
forgave  him;  perhaps  there  were  extenuating  circumstances 
in  the  character  of  the  woman  and  Brown's  ethical  tenets. 
Still  it  is  hard  to  look  with  a  kindly  eye  on  his  cowardice  in 
regard  to  Keats,  who  was  always  so  open  with  him. 

On  the  Friday  after  writing  to  Taylor,  Keats  received  an 
alarming  letter  from  George.  It  contained  the  dire  news 
that  George's  worst  fears  were  realized,  the  boat  had  been 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  471.   From  an  Unpublished  Memoir  by  his  son,  C.  A. 
Brown.    Day  Collection. 


JOHN  KEATS 

traced  to  the  bottom  of  the  Ohio  River  and  all  the  money 
which  George  had  taken  away  with  him  was  definitely 
gone.  A  certain  Mr.  Bakewell,  a  Louisville  acquaintance, 
had  lent  him  money  for  temporary  needs,  but  his  financial 
affairs  would  be  a  total  wreck  if  his  share  of  Tom's  portion 
of  their  joint  patrimony  could  not  be  got  out  of  Abbey 
somehow.  With  characteristic  energy,  Keats  promptly 
determined  to  have  no  more  to  do  with  letters,  but  to  go 
up  to  town  at  once  and  have  an  interview  with  Abbey.  He 
left  Winchester  at  nine  o'clock  that  same  evening,  and  was 
duly  landed  at  the  Bell  and  Crown  Inn,  Hoi  burn,  at  nine 
o'clock  on  Saturday  morning,  September  eleventh.  I  ad- 
mit that  I  have  arrived  at  these  hours  from  deduction 
chiefly.  There  were  only  two  night  coaches  from  Southamp- 
ton in  1819,  and  one  was  the  mail.  If  Keats  took  the  mail, 
he  would  have  had  to  pay  more  than  if  he  went  by  the 
other  coach,  also  he  says:  "I  came  by  the  Friday  night 
coach,"  not  the  "Friday  night  mail."  It  makes  very  little 
odds  which  conveyance  he  went  by.  Both  ran  to  the  same 
London  inn,  the  only  difference  was  that  the  mail  left 
Winchester  an  hour  later  than  the  night  coach,  and 
arrived  at  the  Bell  and  Crown  two  hours  earlier. 

Keats,  suddenly  pulled  out  of  the  studious  solitude  of 
Winchester,  found  that  "London  appeared  a  very  odd 
place."  He  said  afterwards  that  it  took  him  a  whole  day  be- 
fore he  could  "feel  among  men."  His  first  act  was  to  write 
to  Abbey  and  ask  for  an  interview.  Abbey  was  quite  decent 
about  this  and  invited  him  to  "drink  tea"  and  discuss 
business  at  seven  o'clock  on  the  following  Monday.  Here 
then  were  two  whole  days  and  a  part  of  a  third  to  be  got 
through  somehow.  It  might  be  thought  that  he  would  have 
betaken  himself  at  once  to  the  Brawnes'  in  Hampstead, 
but  this  was  just  what  he  did  not  do.  Why,  we  shall  see  in 
a  moment.  Instead,  he  cast  round  in  his  mind  which  of  his 
friends  he  should  look  up,  and  discovered  that  "  there  was 
not  one  house"  he  "  felt  any  pleasure  to  call  at."  Reynolds 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  313 

had  gone  to  Devonshire,  the  Dilkes  were  away  in  the 
country,  Taylor  was  at  Retford.  He  "  walked  about  the 
streets  as  in  a  strange  land."  Rice  was  the  only  one  at 
home,  and  with  him  he  passed  some  time.  The  melancholy 
sojourn  together  at  Shanklin  had  by  no  means  dampened 
Keats's  affectionate  interest  in  Rice;  on  the  contrary,  Rice 
was  still  "the  most  sensible  and  even  wise  man  I  know," 
and  of  him  he  could  still  say  with  sober  warmth:  "We  are 
great  friends,  and  there  is  no  one  I  like  to  pass  a  day  with 
better."  While  Keats  was  at  Rice's,  Martin  dropped  in  to 
say  good-bye  before  going  to  Dublin,  and  the  three  cracked 
jokes  together  and  recalled  the  Shanklin  days  which  all 
three  had  shared.  Keats  saw  Haslam  too,  but  found  him 
"very  much  occupied  with  love  and  business."  He  showed 
Keats  a  picture  (presumably  a  miniature)  of  his  inamorata 
by  Severn,  which  Keats  did  not  take  to.  His  opinion  of  the 
young  lady,  as  the  picture  discovered  her,  he  expressed  in 
this  pregnant  phrase:  "I  think  she  is  though  not  very 
cunning,  too  cunning  for  him."  Keats  was  in  no  mood  to 
be  sympathetic  with  lovers.  A  few  days  later  he  wrote  to 
George: 

"A  man  in  love  I  do  think  cuts  the  sorriest  figure  in  the 
world ;  queer,  when  I  know  a  poor  fool  to  be  really  in  pain 
about  it,  I  could  burst  out  laughing  in  his  face  .  .  .  Not 
that  I  take  Haslam  as  a  pattern  for  lovers;  he  is  a  very 
worthy  man  and  a  good  friend.  His  love  is  very  amusing." 

Among  other  doings  of  this  Saturday,  Keats  dropped  in 
at  93  Fleet  Street,  Taylor  and  Hessey's  shop,  where  he  saw 
Woodhouse,  who  invited  him  to  breakfast  with  him  the 
next  day  at  his  chambers  in  the  Temple.  On  Sunday  then, 
Keats  breakfasted  with  Woodhouse  and  stayed  with  him 
all  the  morning,  he  even  accompanied  him  to  the  Swan 
with  Two  Necks  Inn  in  Lad  Lane  and  saw  him  off  in  the 
Accommodation  Post  Coach  for  Weymouth  at  three.  After 
this,  he  dined  with  Mrs.  Wylie  in  Henrietta  Street.  And  so 
passed  Sunday. 


3i4  JOHN  KEATS 

On  Monday,  Keats  at  last  brought  himself  to  write  to 
Fanny  Brawne.  It  was  surely  time,  he  had  not  written  to 
her  since  August  sixteenth,  and  his  being  in  London  and 
not  going  to  see  her  certainly  called  for  an  explanation.  He 
gave  it,  honestly  and  painfully;  and  once  again  we  must 
admire  Fanny  Brawne,  who  seems  to  have  understood 
and  forgiven.  After  telling  her  that  it  was  a  letter  from 
George  which  had  brought  him  to  town,  he  continues: 

"Am  I  mad  or  not?  I  came  by  the  Friday  night  coach 
and  have  not  yet  been  to  Hampstead.  Upon  my  soul  it  is 
not  my  fault.  I  cannot  resolve  to  mix  any  pleasure  with 
my  days:  they  go  one  like  another,  undistinguishable.  If  I 
were  to  see  you  to-day  it  would  destroy  the  half  com- 
fortable sullenness  I  enjoy  at  present  into  downright 
perplexities.  I  love  you  too  much  to  venture  to  Hamp- 
stead, I  feel  it  is  not  paying  a  visit,  but  venturing  into  a 
fire.  Queferaijef  as  the  French  novel  writers  say  in  fun, 
and  I  in  earnest:  really  what  can  I  do?  Knowing  well  that 
my  life  must  be  passed  in  fatigue  and  trouble,  I  have  been 
endeavouring  to  wean  myself  from  you :  for  to  myself  alone 
what  can  be  much  of  a  misery?  As  far  as  they  regard 
myself  I  can  despise  all  events:  but  I  cannot  cease  to  love 
you.  This  morning  I  scarcely  know  what  I  am  doing.  I  am 
going  to  Walthamstow.  I  shall  return  to  Winchester  to- 
morrow; whence  you  shall  hear  from  me  in  a  few  days.  I 
am  a  Coward,  I  cannot  bear  the  pain  of  being  happy:  'tis 
out  of  the  question:  I  must  admit  no  thought  of  it." 

Keats  did  go  to  Walthamstow  that  morning,  where  he 
found  his  sister  looking  better  than  he  had  seen  her  for  some 
time,  but  he  did  not  go  back  to  Winchester  until  Wednes- 
day, and  he  did  not  write  to  Fanny  Brawne  "in  a  few  days." 
It  was  nearly  a  month  before  she  heard  from  him  again,  but 
then  they  met,  and  the  fog  which  Keats  had  spread  between 
them  was  cleared  away. 

I  have  called  it  selfishness  which  kept  Keats  from  writ- 
ing to  Miss  Brawne  for  so  long,  and  so  it  undoubtedly  was 
in  the  beginning.  But  George's  unfortunate  news  puts  a 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  315 

rather  different  complexion  on  the  case.  If  Keats  were 
protecting  himself  before,  it  was  Fanny  Brawne  even  more 
than  himself  whom  he  was  protecting  now.  That  he  had 
nothing  to  offer  her,  no  possible  hope  of  marriage  for  years 
to  come  to  bring  to  her,  was  becoming  increasingly  evident. 
We  shall  see  his  attitude  very  clearly  between  the  lines  of  a 
letter  to  George  which  he  wrote  on  his  return  to  Winchester. 
But  it  should  be  noticed  that  he  could  not  force  himself  to 
hint  that  she  would  be  wise  to  break  off  the  engagement. 
Things  were  pretty  hopeless,  but  not  yet  hopeless  enough 
for  that.  It  was  not  only  "fire"  which  he  feared  to  find  at 
Hampstead,  it  was  the  necessity  of  telling  Miss  Brawne 
how  matters  stood,  and  he  shrank  at  the  mere  thought  of 
this  necessity.  Hesimply  could  bearno  more,  and  especially 
not  that.  He  must  hold  to  his  shred  of  happiness  a  little 
longer  and  things  must  take  their  course,  even  although 
that  course  meant  a  passive  cruelty  in  regard  to  her.  In 
fairness  to  him,  however,  we  must  remember  that  he  could 
not  figure  his  mere  silence  as  a  cruelty,  because  of  the  blind 
spot  in  his  mind  to  which  I  have  already  referred. 

Seven  o'clock  on  Monday  evening  found  him  drinking 
tea  in  Pancras  Lane  with  Abbey.  Abbey  was  really  dis- 
turbed at  hearing  what  Keats  had  to  say,  and  having  read 
a  part  of  George's  letter  which  Keats  showed  him  expressed 
himself  as  greatly  concerned.  "He  will  apply  to  Mr. 
Glidden  the  partner,  endeavour  to  get  rid  of  Mr.  Jennings's 
claim,  and  be  expeditious,"  Keats  later  told  George.  Keats 
speaks  of  "Mr.  Jennings's  claim/'  I  suppose  he  calls  it  so 
from  the  fact  that  Lieutenant  Jennings's  widow  derived 
her  claim  through  her  husband.  I  do  not  understand  that 
Keats's  aunt,  Mrs.  Jennings,  had  a  son,  and  her  husband 
had  long  been  dead. 

Business  disposed  of,  Abbey  turned  to  lighter  matters. 
In  Keats's  words: 

"He  began  blowing  up  Lord  Byron  while  I  was  sitting 
with  him:  'However,  may  be  the  fellow  says  true  things 


316  JOHN  KEATS 

now  and  then/  at  which  he  took  up  a  magazine,  and  read 
me  some  extracts  from  Don  Juan  (Lord  Byron's  last  flash 
poem),  and  particularly  one  against  literary  ambition." 

After  Keats  had  left  Abbey,  he  started  to  walk  up  Cheap- 
side,  but  returning  to  put  some  letters  in  the  post  en- 
countered Abbey  again.  This  walk  Keats  describes  with  a 
good  deal  of  amusement  to  George: 

"We  walked  together  through  the  Poultry  as  far  as  the 
hatter's  shop  he  has  some  concern  in.  He  spoke  of  it  in 
such  a  way  to  me,  I  thought  he  wanted  me  to  make  an 
offer  to  assist  him  in  it.  I  do  believe  if  I  could  be  a  hatter  I 
might  be  one." 

A  mad  hatter,  indeed,  he  would  have  been,  and  he  did  not 
make  the  offer. 

Tuesday  is  a  blank.  We  know  nothing  about  it,  nor  why 
Keats  changed  his  mind  about  going  back  to  Winchester  on 
that  day.  The  only  farther  details  we  have  concerning 
these  September  days  in  town  are  that  on  one  of  the  eve- 
nings of  his  stay  he  went  toCovent  Garden  at  half  price,  and 
that  in  passing  Colinagni  the  print-seller's  window  he  saw 
"a  profile  portrait  of  Sandt,  the  destroyer  of  Kotzebue," 
which  seemed  to  him  "like  a  young  Abelard."  On  Wednes- 
day, he  returned  to  Winchester,  having  received  a  promise 
from  Abbey  that  he  would  let  him  know  how  affairs  pro- 
ceeded, and  arranged  that  if  they  went  well  he  should  again 
go  up  to  town  and  instruct  Abbey  how  to  forward  what- 
ever could  be  sent  to  the  very  remote  spot  known  as  Louis- 
ville, Kentucky,  in  the  back  provinces  of  the  United  States 
of  America. 

When  I  spoke  of  this  bird's-eye  view  of  Keats's  doings  as 
being  all  we  know  of  the  town  visit,  I  meant  all  the  main 
facts,  for  we  have  an  abundance  of  detail  concerning  one  of 
Keats's  engagements,  and  this  detail  carries  with  it  a  most 
interesting  sequel.  Woodhouse,  on  reaching  Weymouth, 
wrote  to  Taylor,  and  from  this  letter  and  Taylor's  reply  I 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  317 

propose  to  quote  at  some  length.  Woodhouse's  letter,1  part 
of  it,  is  as  follows,  he  dates  it  "Weymouth,  Monday  20 
Sept.  1819": 

"  I  left  Town  on  Sunday  Evening  (i2th)  &  arrived  here 
on  the  Monday  about  I  . . .  Keats  was  in  Town  the  day 
before  I  left.  He  came  into  93  unexpectedly,  while  I  was 
in  the  midst  of  a  recapitulation  to  Hessey  of  the  strong 
points  of  the  matter  between  yourselves  and  the  Capt . . . 
K.  came  about  his  Chancery  Suit  that  is  to  be:  or  rather 
that  is  not  to  be,  if  he  succeeds  in  the  object  of  his  journey 
to  London;  which  is  to  dissuade  some  old  aunt  from  going 
into  that  Court.  —  He  took  his  breakfast  with  me  on  the 
Sunday,  and  remained  with  me  till  I  stept  into  the  coach 
for  this  place  at  3  o'clock.  I  was  much  gratified  with  his 
company.  He  wanted  I  believe  to  publish  the  Eve  of  St. 
Agnes  &  Lamia  immediately:  but  Hessey  told  him  it  could 
not  answer  to  do  so  now.  I  wondered  why  he  said  nothing  of 
Isabella:  &  assured  him  it  would  please  more  than  the  Eve 
of  St.  Agnes  —  He  said  he  could  not  bear  the  former  now. 
It  appeared  to  him  mawkish.  This  certainly  cannot  be  so. 
The  feeling  is  very  likely  to  come  across  an  author  on  re- 
view of  a  former  work  of  his  own,  particularly  where  the 
objects  of  his  present  meditations  are  of  a  more  sobered  & 
unpassionate  character.  The  feeling  of  mawkishness  seems 
to  be  that  which  comes  upon  us  where  anything  of  great 
tenderness  &  excessive  simplicity  is  met  with  when  we  are 
not  in  a  sufficiently  tender  &  simple  frame  of  mind  to  bear 
it:  when  we  experience  a  sort  of  revulsion,  or  resiliency  (if 
there  be  such  a  word)  from  the  sentiment  or  expression. 
Now  I  believe  there  is  nothing  in  the  most  passionate  parts 
of  Isabella  to  excite  this  feeling.  It  may,  as  may  Lear, 
leave  the  reader  far  behind:  but  there  is  none  of  the  sugar 
&  butter  sentiment,  that  cloys  &  disgusts.  He  had  the '  Eve 
of  St.  A."  copied  fair.  He  has  made  trifling  alterations, 
inserted  an  additional  stanza  early  in  the  poem  to  make 
the  legend  more  intelligible,  and  correspondent  with  what 
afterwards  takes  place,  particularly  with  respect  to  the 

1  Morgan  Collection.   Partly  published  in  Sir  Sidney  Colvin's  Life  of 
John  Keats.  Third  Edition. 


3i 8  JOHN  KEATS 

supper  &  the  playing  on  the  lute.  —  he  retains  the  name  of 
Porphyro  —  has  altered  the  last  3  lines  to  leave  on  the 
reader  a  sense  of  pettish  disgust,  by  bringing  old  Angela  in 
(only)  dead  stiff  &  ugly.  He  says  he  likes  that  the  poem 
should  leave  off  with  this  change  of  sentiment  —  it  was 
what  he  aimed  at,  &  was  glad  to  find  from  my  objections 
to  it  that  he  has  succeeded.  —  I  apprehend  he  had  a  fancy 
for  trying  his  hand  at  an  attempt  to  play  with  his  reader  & 
fling  him  off  at  last —  I  sho'd  have  thought  he  affected  the 
'  Don  Juan '  style  of  swinging  up  sentiment  &  sneering:  but 
that  he  had  before  asked  Hessey  if  he  co'd  procure  him  a 
sight  of  that  work,  as  he  had  not  met  with  it,  and  if  the  E. 
of  St.  A.  had  not  in  all  probability  been  altered  before  his 
Lordship  had  then  flown  in  the  face  of  the  public.  There 
was  another  alteration,  which  I  abused  for  "a  full  hour  bv 
the  Temple  clock."  You  know  if  a  thing  has  a  decent  side, 
I  generally  look  no  further  —  As  the  Poem  was  origi'y 
written,  we  innocent  ones  (ladies  &  myself)  might  very  well 
have  supposed  that  Porphyro,  when  acquainted  with 
Madeline's  love  for  him,  &  when  '  he  arose,  Etherial  flush'd 
&c.&c.  (turn  to  it)  set  himself  at  once  to  persuade  her  to  go 
off  with  him,  &  succeeded  &  went  over  the  'Dartmoor 
black '  (now  changed  for  some  other  place)  to  be  married  in 
right  honest  chaste  &  sober  wise.  But,  as  it  is  now  altered, 
as  soon  as  M.  has  declared  her  love,  P.  winds  by  degrees 
his  arm  round  her,  presses  breast  to  breast,  and  acts  all 
the  acts  of  a  bon&fide  husband,  while  she  fancies  she  is  only 
playing  the  part  of  a  wife  in  a  dream.  This  alteration  is  of 
about  3  stanzas;  and  tho'  there  are  no  improper  expressions 
but  all  is  left  to  inference,  and  tho'  profanely  speaking,  the 
Interest  on  the  reader's  imagination  is  greatly  heightened, 
yet  I  do  apprehend  it  will  render  the  poem  unfit  for  ladies, 
&  indeed  scarcely  to  be  mentioned  to  them  among  the 
'things  that  are.'  He  says  he  does  not  want  ladies  to  read 
his  poetry:  that  he  writes  for  men — &  that  if  in  the  former 
poem  there  was  an  opening  for  a  doubt  what  took  place,  it 
was  his  fault  for  not  writing  clearly  &  comprehensibly  — 
that  he  sh'd  despise  a  man  who  would  be  such  an  eunuch  in 
sentiment  as  to  leave  a  maid,  with  that  character  about  her, 
in  such  a  situation:  &  sh'd  despise  himself  to  write  about 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  319 

&C.&G.&C.  —  and  all  this  sort  of  Keats-like  rhodomontade. 

—  But  you  will  see  the  work  I  dare  say. 

He  then  read  to  me  Lamia,  which  he  has  half  fair-copied: 
the  rest  is  rough.  I  was  much  pleased  with  it.  I  can  use 
no  other  terms  for  you  know  how  badly  he  reads  his  own 
poetry :  &  you  know  how  slow  I  am  in  catching,  even  the 
sense  of  poetry  read  by  the  best  reader  for  the  1st  time. 
And  his  poetry  really  must  be  studied  to  be  properly 
appreciated.  The  story  is  to  this  effect.  Hermes  is  hunting 
for  a  nymph,  when  from  a  wood  he  hears  his  name  &  a  song 
relating  to  his  loss  —  Mercury  finds  out  that  it  comes  from 
a  serpent,  who  promises  to  show  him  his  nymph  if  he  will 
turn  the  serpent  into  a  woman:  This  he  agrees  to:  upon 
which  the  serpent  breathes  on  his  eyes  when  he  sees  his 
nymph  who  had  been  beside  them  listening  invisibly.  The 
serpent  had  seen  a  young  man  of  Corinth  with  whom  she 
had  fallen  desperately  in  love — She  is  metamorphosed  into 
a  beautiful  woman,  the  change  is  quite  Ovidian,  but  better 

—  she  then  finds  the  youth,  &  they  live  together  in  a 
palace  in   the  middle  of  Corinth   (described,  or  rather 
pictured  out  in  very  good  costume)  the  entrance  of  which 
no  one  can  see  (like  the  cavern  Prince  Ahmed  found  in  the 
Arabian  Nights  when  searching  for  his  lost  arrow.)   There 
they  live  &  love,  'the  world  forgetting:  of  the  world  for- 
got/ He  wishes  to  marry  her  &  introduce  her  to  his  friends 
as  his  wife.    But  this  would  be  a  forfeiture  of  her  im- 
mortality  &   she    refuses  —  at    length    (for    says   K.  — 
'women  love  to  be  forced  to  do  a  thing,  by  a  fine  fellow  — 
such  as  this  —  I  forget  his  name  —  was)  she  consents.  The 
Palace  door  becomes  visible  —  to  the  '  astonishment  of  the 
natives'  —  the  friends  are  invited  to  the  wedding-feast  — 
&  K.  wipes  the  cits  &  the  low-lived  ones:  of  some  of  whom 
he  says  'who  make  their  mouth  a  napkin  to  their  thumb1 
in  the  midst  of  this  Imperial  splendour.  The  lover  had  seen 
his  tutor  Appollonius  that  morning,  while  in  a  car  with  his 
Lamia ;  he  had  a  scowl  on  his  brow,  which  makes  the  hearts 
of  the  lovers  sink;  &  she  asks  him,  who  that  frowning  old 
fellow  was,  as  soon  as  A.  passed.  —  He  appears  at  the 
feast :  damps  the  joy  of  the  two  by  his  presence  —  sits  over 
against  the  woman:  He  is  a  Magician.  He  looks  earnestly 


320  JOHN  KEATS 

at  the  woman:  so  intently  &  to  such  effect,  that  she  reads 
in  his  eyes  that  she  is  discovered :  &  vanishes  away,  shriek- 
ing. The  lover  is  told  that  she  was  a  'Lamia'  &  goes  mad 
for  the  loss  of  her,  &  dies.  You  may  suppose  all  these 
events  have  given  K.  scope  for  some  beautiful  poetry: 
which  even  in  this  cursory  hearing  of  it,  came  every  now  & 
then  upon  me  &  made  me  'start,  as  tho*  a  sea  nymph, 
quired."  The  metre  is  Drydenian  heroic  —  with  many 
triplets,  &  many  alexandrines.  But  this  K.  observed,  &  I 
agreed,  was  required,  as  rather  quite  in  character  with  the 
language  &  sentiment  in  those  particular  parts.  K.  has  a 
fine  feeling  when  &  where  he  may  use  poetical  licenses  with 
effect.  He  very  kindly  reproached  me  with  never  writing  to 
him.  You  may  suppose  I  promised  amendment  &  stipu- 
lated (as  Paddy  says)  '  that  all  the  reciprocity  should  not 
be  on  one  side.1  The  last  thing,  as  he  shook  me  by  the 
hand,  he  promised  to  drop  me  a  line  to  Bath:  'and  if  (said 
he)  it  should  be  in  verse,  1  dare  say  you  will  forgive  me.'  He 
parted  with  me  at  the  Coach  door.  I  had  the  inside  all  to 
myself:  and  I  amused  myself  with  diving  into  a  deep 
reverie,  &  recalling  all  that  had  passed  during  the  6  hours 
we  were  t£te  &  tgte.  I  make  no  apology  for  stuffing  my 
letter  with  these  Keatsiana.  I  am  sure  nothing  else  I  could 
say  would  have  half  the  interest.  And  I  deem  myself  in 
luck  to  have  such  a  subject  to  write  about." 

The  receipt  of  this  letter  threw  the  prudish  Taylor  into  a 
state  of  real  agitation.  The  odd  attitude  of  the  times, 
which  dared  do  almost  anything  and  dared  say  almost 
nothing,  is  exemplified  in  Taylor's  answer.  Keats's  three 
stanzas  appear  to  be  lost,  the  only  hint  of  them  is  contained 
in  two  very  mild  cancelled  lines: 

11  See  while  she  speaks  his  arms  encroaching  slow 
Have  zon'd  her,  heart  to  heart  —  loud,  loud  the  dark  winds 
blow." 

It  seems  impossible  that  anything  so  innocuous  as  this 
could  have  shocked  Woodhouse  and  Taylor,  even  making 
allowance  for  the  times,  and  therefore  I  think  we  must 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  321 

believe  that  Keats  eventually  destroyed  the  offending 
stanzas. 

Taylor's  letter,1  so  much  of  it  as  refers  to  Keats,  runs  in 
this  wise: 

"Bakewell  Sat  25th  Sep  1819. 
MY  DEAR  DICK, 

Your  welcome  Letter  has  just  reached  me,  having  been 
forwarded  in  a  parcel  from  Retford,  which  place  I  left  last 
Tuesday.  —  I  sit  down  to  reply  to  it,  more  perhaps  to 
express  my  regret  at  what  you  tell  me  of  the  Changes  in 
the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes,  than  for  any  deliberate  purpose  of 
saying  my  say  on  things  in  general.  —  This  Folly  of  Keats 
is  the  most  Stupid  piece  of  Folly  I  can  conceive.  —  He 
does  not  bear  the  ill  opinion  of  the  world  calmly,  &  yet  he 
will  not  allow  it  to  form  a  good  opinion  of  Him  &  his 
writings.  He  repented  of  this  Conduct  when  Endymion 
was  published  as  much  as  a  Man  can  repent,  who  shows 
by  the  accidental  Expression  of  Disappointment,  Morti- 
fication &  Disgust  that  he  has  met  with  a  Result  different 
from  that  which  he  had  anticipated  —  Yet  he  will  again 
challenge  the  same  Neglect  or  Censure,  &  again  (I  pledge 
my  Discernment  on  it)  be  vexed  at  the  Reception  he  has 
prepared  for  himself.  —  This  Vaporing  is  as  far  from 
sound  Fortitude,  as  the  Conduct  itself  in  the  Instances 
before  us,  is  devoid  of  good  Feeling  and  good  Sense.  —  I 
don't  know  how  the  Meaning  of  the  new  Stanzas  is  wrapped 
up,  but  I  will  not  be  accessory  (I  can  answer  also  for  H.  I 
think)  towards  publishing  anything  which  can  only  be 
read  by  Men,  since  even  on  their  Minds  a  bad  Effect  must 
follow  the  Encouragement  of  those  thoughts  which  cannot 
be  raised  without  Impropriety.  — 

If  it  was  so  natural  a  process  in  Keats's  Mind  to  carry  on 
the  Train  of  his  Story  in  the  way  he  has  done,  that  he  could 
not  write  decently,  if  he  had  that  Disease  of  the  Mind 
which  renders  the  Perception  too  dull  to  discover  Right 
from  Wrong  in  Matters  of  moral  Taste,  I  should  object 
equally  then  as  now  to  the  Sanctioning  of  the  Infirmity  by 
an  act  of  cool  Encouragement  on  my  part,  but  then  he 

1  Author's  Collection. 


322  JOHN  KEATS 

would  be  personally  perhaps  excusable  —  As  it  is,  the  fly- 
ing in  the  Face  of  all  Decency  &  Discretion  is  doubly 
offensive  from  its  being  accompanied  with  so  preposterous 
a  Conceit  on  his  part  of  being  able  to  overcome  the  best 
found  Habits  of  our  Nature.  —  Had  he  known  truly  what 
the  Society  and  what  the  Suffrages  of  Women  are  worth, 
he  would  never  have  thought  of  depriving  himself  of  them. 
—  So  far  as  he  is  unconsciously  silly  in  this  Proceeding  I  am 
sorry  for  him,  but  for  the  rest  I  cannot  but  confess  to  you 
that  it  excites  in  me  the  Strongest  Sentiments  of  Dis- 
approbation —  Therefore  my  dear  Dick  if  he  will  not  so 
far  concede  to  my  wishes  as  to  leave  the  passage  as  it 
originally  stood,  I  must  be  content  to  admire  his  Poems 
with  some  other  Imprint,  &  in  so  doing  I  can  reap  as  much 
Delight  from  the  Perusal  of  them  as  if  they  were  our  own 
property,  without  having  the  disquieting  Consideration 
attached  to  them  of  our  approving,  by  the  'Imprimateur,' 
those  Parts  which  are  unfit  for  publication.  — 

You  will  think  me  too  severe  again.  Well  then;  I  will 
suspend  my  Judgment  till  I  see  or  hear  more,  but  if  these 
my  present  Views  are  shown  to  be  no  Illusion  I  must  act  as 
I  have  described  —  How  strange  too  that  he  should  have 
taken  such  a  Dislike  to  Isabella  —  I  still  think  of  it  exactly 
as  you  do,  &  from  what  he  copied  out  of  Lamia  in  a  late 
Letter  I  fancy  I  shall  prefer  it  to  that  poem  also.  —  The 
Extract  he  gave  me  was  from  the  Feast:  I  did  not  enter  so 
well  into  it  as  to  be  qualified  to  criticise,  but  whether  it  be 
a  want  of  Taste  for  such  Subjects  as  Fairy  Tales,  or  that  I 
do  not  perceive  true  Poetry  except  it  is  in  Conjunction 
with  good  Sentiment  I  cannot  tell  but  it  did  not  promise  to 
please  me.  — " 

After  reading  these  two  letters,  we  can  understand  why 
Keats  found  Brown's  society  so  refreshing.  If  Brown  acted 
too  much  as  he  talked,  at  least  he  was  all  of  a  piece,  a  good, 
square,  burly  piece  of  robustious  human  nature.  Yet,  by 
this  letter  of  his,  we  can  see  that  Taylor  was  no  fool.  He 
put  his  finger  at  once  on  Keats's  weak  spot,  that  his 
cynicism  was  merely  bitterness  born  of  hurt  feelings.  He 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW          323 

did  not  like  the  lines  from  Lamia  which  Keats  had  sent 
him,  and  no  wonder  when  we  see  what  they  were,  which 
I  believe  no  living  person  but  myself  has  yet  done.  What 
possible  passage  in  the  poem  can  Woodhouse  refer  to  when 
he  quotes  that  egregious  remark  of  someone's  mouth  being 
a  napkin  to  his  thumb?  The  extract  from  Keats's  letter  of 
September  fifth  as  published  by  Buxton  Forman  contains 
nothing  of  all  this.  But  Buxton  Forman  is  careful  to  ex- 
plain that,  in  the  copy  of  the  letter  sent  him,  the  lines  from 
Lamia  were  not  given,  and  that  he  has  made  them  up  from 
an  early  manuscript  found  among  Lord  Houghton's  papers. 
Now  the  lines  quoted  in  the  original  letter 1  are  very  differ- 
ent from  Buxton  Forman's  guess  at  them.  The  passage 
begins  with  the  line: 

"A  haunting  music,  sole  perhaps  and  lone" 

and  continues  for  fifty-eight  lines.  It  differs  in  several 
places  from  the  version  afterwards  published,  but  it  is  not 
until  the  line  beginning  "Soft  went  the  music "  is  reached 
that  it  ceases  entirely  to  accord  with  it.  From  then  to  the 
final  line  copied  in  the  letter,  there  is  no  resemblance  be- 
tween what  Keats  sent  to  Taylor  and  read  to  Woodhouse 
and  the  poem  as  we  know  it.  This  is  what  Taylor  read  and 
Woodhouse  listened  to: 

"Soft  went  the  music,  and  the  tables  all 
Sparkled  beneath  the  viewless  banneral 
Of  Magic;  and  disposed  in  double  row 
Seem'd  edged  Parterres  of  white  bedded  snow, 
Adorn 'd  along  the  sides  with  living  flowers 
Conversing,  laughing  after  sunny  showers: 
And,  as  the  pleasant  appetite  entic'd 
Gush  came  the  wine,  and  sheer  the  meats  were  slic'd. 
Soft  went  the  Music;  the  flat  salver  sang 
Kiss'd  by  the  emptied  goblet,  —  and  again  it  rang: 
Swift  bustled  by  the  servants:  —  here's  a  health 

1  Author's  Collection. 


324  JOHN  KEATS 

Cries  one  —  another  —  then,  as  if  by  stealth, 

A  Glutton  drains  a  cup  of  Helicon, 

Too  fast  down,  down  his  throat  the  brief  delight  is  gone. 
'Where  is  that  Music?'  cries  a  Lady  fair. 
'Aye,  where  is  it  my  dear?  Up  in  the  air?' 

Another  whispers.   'Poo!'  saith  Glutton  'Mum!' 

Then  makes  his  shiny  mouth  a  napkin  for  his  thumb. 
&c.  &c.  &c." 

If  Keats  had  been  altering  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  in  this 
vein,  we  cannot  be  too  thankful  to  Woodhouse  and  Taylor 
for  suppressing  him. 

Keats  returned  to  Winchester  on  Wednesday,  September 
fifteenth,  with  his  head  full  of  plans  and  perplexities  and 
no  one  to  talk  them  over  with,  for  Brown  was  still  away. 
Two  days  later,  on  Friday,  he  began  a  letter  to  George 
which  rambled  on  for  ten  days.  I  have  already  quoted 
somewhat  from  it,  and  shall  quote  more  as  necessity  arises. 
The  first  part  of  this  letter  is  taken  up  with  an  account  of 
his  visit  to  town,  in  the  midst  of  which,  apropos  of  Haslam, 
Keats  breaks  into  one  of  his  impromptu  jingles,  the  one 
named  by  some  subsequent  editor  A  Party  of  Lovers.  Keats 
calls  these  lines  "a  few  nonsense  verses"  and  they  are  no 
more.  The  type  of  tea-table  lover  here  lampooned  cannot 
even  be  considered  as  a  result  of  Keats's  unhappy  musings 
on  his  own  condition. 

But  Keats  was  not  always  unhappy.  The  next  slice  of 
the  letter,  written  on  Saturday,  records  one  of*  those  strange 
veerings  from  grave  to  gay  to  which  he  was  mercifully 
subject.  He  begins: 

"With  my  inconstant  disposition  it  is  no  wonder  that 
this  morning,  amid  all  our  bad  times  and  misfortunes,  I 
should  feel  so  alert  and  well-spirited  ...  It  is  because  my 
hopes  are  ever  paramount  to  my  dispair." 

Perhaps  this  was  the  reason  of  his  high  spirits,  but  is  it 
not  more  likely,  in  the  present  instance,  that  a  comforting 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW          325 

letter  from  Fanny  Brawne  in  answer  to  his  note  of  the 
Monday  before  may  have  had  something  to  do  with  it? 
Whether  the  high  spirits  were  cause  or  effect,  they  are 
closely  related  to  a  re-reading  of  Lamia  which  he  had  just 
been  engaged  upon.  Here  is  his  opinion  of  that  poem: 

"  I  have  been  reading  over  a  part  of  a  short  poem  I  have 
composed  lately,  called  Lamia,  and  I  am  certain  there  is 
that  sort  of  fire  in  it  which  must  take  hold  of  people  in 
some  way.  Give  them  either  pleasant  or  unpleasant  sen- 
sation —  what  they  want  is  sensation  of  some  sort." 

Sunday  seems  to  have  been  largely  spent  in  going  over 
and  revising  the  fragment  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark,  begun  the 
February  before  at  Hampstead,  for  on  Monday  he  ushers 
in  a  copy  of  it  to  George  by  means  of  this  enchanting 
prologue: 

"  This  day  is  a  grand  day  for  Winchester.  They  elect  the 
Mayor.  It  was  indeed  high  time  the  place  should  have 
some  sort  of  excitement.  There  was  nothing  going  on  —  all 
asleep.  Not  an  old  maid's  sedan  returning  from  a  card 
party ;  and  if  any  old  women  have  got  tipsy  at  christenings, 
they  have  not  exposed  themselves  in  the  street.  The  first 
night,  tho',  of  our  arrival  here  there  was  a  slight  uproar 
took  place  at  about  ten  of  the  clock.  We  heard  distinctly  a 
noise  patting  down  the  street,  as  of  a  walking-cane  of  the 
good  old  dowager  breed ;  and  a  little  minute  after  we  heard 
a  less  voice  observe,  'What  a  noise  the  ferril  made  —  it 
must  be  loose.'  Brown  wanted  to  call  the  constables,  but  I 
observed  it  was  only  a  little  breeze,  and  would  soon  pass 
over.  The  side  streets  here  are  excessively  maiden-lady- 
like, the  doorsteps  always  fresh  from  the  flannel.  The 
knockers  have  a  very  staid,  serious,  nay  almost  awful  quiet- 
ness about  them.  I  never  saw  so  quiet  a  collection  of  lions' 
and  rams'  heads.  The  doors  most  part  black,  with  a  little 
brass  handle  just  above  the  keyhole,  so  that  you  may  easily 
shut  yourself  out  of  your  own  house.  He!  He!  There  is  none 
of  your  Lady  Bellaston  ringing  and  rapping  here;  no  thun- 
dering Jupiter-footmen,  no  opera-treble  tattoos,  but  a  mod- 


326  JOHN  KEATS 

est  lifting  up  of  the  knocker  by  a  set  of  little  wee  old  fingers 
that  peep  through  grey  mittens,  and  a  dying  fall  thereof. 
The  great  beauty  of  poetry  is  that  it  makes  everything, 
every  place,  interesting.  The  palatine  Venice  and  the 
abbotine  Winchester  are  equally  interesting.  Some  time 
since  I  began  a  poem  called  'The  Eve  of  St.  Mark,'  quite 
in  the  spirit  of  town  quietude.  I  think  it  will  give  you  the 
sensation  of  walking  about  an  old  country  town  in  a  coolish 
evening.  I  know  not  whether  I  shall  ever  finish  it;  I  will 
give  it  as  far  as  I  have  gone." 

Here  follows  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark,  and  after  it  Keats  re- 
marks: "I  hope  you  will  like  this  for  all  its  carelessness/' 
Like  it!  To  some  of  us  in  this  day  and  age,  St.  Mark  ranks 
so  high  among  Keats's  works  as  to  be  the  equal  of  any,  be 
the  other  what  it  may.  Rossetti  considered  it  as  "  perhaps, 
with  La  Belle  Dame  sans  Merci  the  chastest  and  choicest 
example  of  his  maturing  manner."  x  It  is  certainly  that; 
the  poem  exhibits  all  Keats's  virtues  and  practically  none 
of  his  faults.  Not  a  trace  of  his  youthful  sentimentality  dis- 
figures it.  Story,  atmosphere,  colour,  line,  imagination, 
human  interest,  we  have  all  these  elements  at  their  best  in 
the  hundred  and  nineteen  lines  of  this  fragment.  It  is  as 
nearly  perfect  of  its  kind  as  a  poem  can  be.  The  opening 
lines  are  a  marvel  of  reticent  presentation.  There  is  not  a 
redundant  word,  and  not  a  word  too  few.  I  think  no  picture 
which  Keats  has  given  us  quite  equals  this: 

"Upon  a  Sabbath-day  it  fell; 
Twice  holy  was  the  Sabbath-bell, 
That  call'd  the  folk  to  evening  prayer; 
The  city  streets  were  clean  and  fair 
From  wholesome  drench  of  April  rains; 
And,  on  the  western  window  panes, 
The  chilly  sunset  faintly  told 
Of  unmatur'd  green  vallies  cold, 
Of  the  green  thorny  bloomless  hedge, 
Of  rivers  new  with  spring-tide  sedge, 

1  Quoted  by  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW          327 

Of  primroses  by  shelter'd  rills, 
And  daisies  on  the  aguish  hills. 
Twice  holy  was  the  Sabbath-bell: 
The  silent  streets  were  crowded  well 
With  staid  and  pious  companies, 
Warm  from  their  fire-side  orat'ries; 
And  moving,  with  demurest  air, 
To  even-song,  and  vesper  prayer. 
Each  arched  porch,  and  entry  low, 
Was  fill'd  with  patient  folk  and  slow, 
With  whispers  hush,  and  shuffling  feet, 
While  play'd  the  organ  loud  and  sweet." 

There  is  no  need  to  comment  on  poetry  such  as  that;  it  is 
ts  own  commentary.  I  shall  only  ask  my  readers  to  notice 
low  the  bell,  clanging  once,  twice,  at  a  carefully  spaced  in- 
erval,  gives  just  the  effect  of  a  real  bell,  slowly,  regularly 
ounding  through  the  damp  evening  air,  above  the  contin- 
LOUS  murmur  of  shuffling  feet,  and  how  it  harmonizes  with, 
.nd  breaks  in  upon,  the  tones  of  the  organ.  So  excellent  is 
his  poem  that  one  longs  to  quote  it  all,  from  the  sheer  diffi- 
ulty  of  choosing  parts.  Since  I  cannot  do  that,  I  shall 
[uote  no  more.  It  must  be  read,  and  read  with  attention, 
urrendering  one's  self  to  its  swift,  although  gentle,  changes 
f  effect.  St.  Mark  is  a  quiet  poem,  and  it  must  be  read  with 

quiet  heart  and  a  mind  smooth  and  ready  to  take  impres- 
ions,  so  that  we  may  not  merely  read,  but  see,  first  the 
Minster  square,  then  the  panelled  room  with  the  young  girl 
eading  her  great  illuminated  book,  then  the  book  itself  and 
ts  strange  pictures  and  crooked  mediaeval  script.  Scholars 
ake  great  pleasure  in  informing  us  that  Keats's  attempt  at 
Middle  English  is  no  English  at  all,  unless  it  be  Chatter- 
on's.  It  may  be  well  to  know  this  as  a  matter  of  curiosity; 
rom  the  poetical  point  of  view,  it  is  of  no  importance  what- 
ver.  St.  Mark  is  a  perfect  thing  no  matter  how  incorrect 
:  may  be  historically,  criticism  on  that  score  is  of  no  mo- 
lent  here. 


328  JOHN  KEATS 

The  tale  is  based  on  another  old  legend,  one  peculiar  to 
the  evening  before  the  day  dedicated  to  St.  Mark,  which 
falls  on  April  twenty-fifth.  According  to  this  legend,  any 
one  standing  beside  the  door  of  a  church  on  the  evening 
in  question  will  see  entering  it  the  apparitions  of  those 
persons  belonging  to  the  parish  who  are  doomed  to  die  dur- 
ing the  coming  year. 

Rossetti  was  the  first  person  to  point  out  that  Keats's 
fragment  undoubtedly  referred  to  this  superstition;1  and 
that  his  surmise  was  correct,  was  proved  by  the  discovery 
of  a  portion  of  another  manuscript  of  the  poem  by  Buxton 
Forman  in  1906.  This  passage  also  occurs  copied  out  by 
Woodhouse  in  one  of  his  Commonplace  Books.2  I  give  it 
here  from  Professor  de  Selincourt's  fourth  edition  of  Keats's 
Poems: 

"  Gif  ye  wol  stonden  hardie  wight  — 
Amiddes  of  the  blacke  night  — 
Righte  in  the  church^  porch,  pardie 
Ye  wol  behold  a  companie 
Appouchen  thee  full  dolourouse 
For  sooth  to  sain  from  everich  house 
Be  it  in  City  or  village 
Wol  come  the  Phantom  and  image 
Of  ilka  geat  and  ilka  carl 
Whom  cold£  Death£  hath  in  parle 
And  wol  some  day  that  very  year 
Touchen  with  foute  venime  spear 
And  sadly  do  them  all  to  die  — 
Hem  all  shalt  thou  see  verilie  — 
And  everichon  shall  by  thee  pass 
All  who  must  die  that  year  Alas." 

Sir  Sidney  Colvin  is  greatly  exercised  to  discover  whether 
the  setting  of  the  poem  itself  be  mediaeval  or  modern.  The 
former  it  certainly  cannot  be;  as  to  the  latter,  it  depends 
upon  what  interpretation  one  gives  to  the  word  "modern." 

1  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 

1  Woodhouse  (Poems  II.)  Crewe  Collection.  Discovered  in  1913. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW          329 

The  setting  of  St.  Mark  need  not  be  exactly  of  Keats's 
time,  but  it  as  certainly  dates  to  some  period  subsequent  to 
the  making  of  Sunday  a  solemn  day  rather  than  a  gay  one. 
Once  again,  it  does  not  matter.  Nothing  matters  here  but 
the  extraordinary  beauty  of  the  poem  itself. 

It  is  unfortunate  that  we  have  no  means  of  determining 
how  much  of  this  fragment  was  composed  in  February,  and 
how  much  was  done  in  September.  We  have  already  ob- 
served Keats's  remarkable  versatility  in  changing  from  one 
atmosphere  to  another  in  the  shortest  possible  time.  For  a 
man  who  could  sandwich  Otho  in  between  the  two  parts  of 
Lamia,  the  jump  from  Lamia  to  St.  Mark  presents  no  sort 
of  obstacle.  On  the  whole,  I  think  the  change  of  mood 
from  St.  Agnes9  Eve  to  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark  was  a  more 
difficult  feat  to  perform.  Keats  had  been  working  over 
St.  Agnes '  Eve  in  February,  but  he  had  also  been  working 
on  it  in  September.  However  we  look  at  it,  St.  Mark 
stands  apart  and  by  itself.  No  other  of  his  narratives  has 
quite  this  touch,  the  nearest  approach  to  it  is  the  ode  To 
Autumn  which  was  apparently  also  done  on  this  Sunday. 

It  is  curious  to  note  how  much  more  mature  in  many 
ways  St.  Mark  is  than  Lamia.  It,  and  the  ode  To  Autumn, 
reflect  more  clearly  what  Keats  was  at  this  moment  than 
does  that  poem  with  its  occasional  returns  to  his  earlier 
manner.  Keats  himself  gives  us  the  key  in  that  part  of  his 
letter  to  George  written  on  Tuesday,  September  twenty- 
first.  He  says: 

"From  the  time  you  left  me  our  friends  say  I  have 
altered  completely  —  am  not  the  same  person  . . .  Some 
think  I  have  lost  that  poetical  ardour  and  fire  'tis  said  I 
once  had  —  The  fact  is,  perhaps  I  have;  but,  instead  of 
that,  I  hope  I  shall  substitute  a  more  thoughtful  and  quiet 
power.  I  am  more  frequently  now  contented  to  read  and 
think,  but  now  and  then  haunted  with  ambitious  thoughts. 
Quieter  in  my  pulse,  improved  in  my  digestion,  exerting 
myself  against  vexing  speculations,  scarcely  content  to 


330  JOHN  KEATS 

write  the  best  verses  for  the  fever  they  leave  behind.  I 
want  to  compose  without  this  fever.  I  hope  I  one  day  shall. 
You  would  scarcely  imagine  I  could  live  alone  so  com- 
fortably —  '  Kepen  in  solitarinesse.' " 

The  quotation  from  St.  Mark  links  this  passage  to  the 
poem,  as,  indeed,  we  know  it  to  have  been  linked  from  the 
beginning.  In  St.  Mark,  the  altered  Keats  stands  forth 
very  plainly.  I  imagine  he  never  finished  the  poem  from 
the  knowledge  that  he  could  not  do  so  without  undergoing 
the  fever  he  dreaded.  Cool  as  the  fragment  sounds,  it 
cannot  have  been  written  without  heat;  but  the  energy 
required  to  carry  on  and  finish  a  sustained  poem,  such  as 
St.  Mark  must  have  been,  is  greater  than  that  needed  to 
begin  it.  This  Keats  knew,  and  the  poem  was  never  com- 
pleted. Poetry  cannot  be  written  without  fever.  The 
creation  of  a  work  of  art  in  any  form  is  a  terribly  exhaust- 
ing thing.  An  artist  in  normal  health  is  none  the  worse  for 
this  exhaustion  in  the  long  run;  and  he  is  sustained  through 
it  by  the  immensely  tonic  and  bracing  effect  inherent  in  the 
act  of  creation.  One  sensation  relieves  the  other,  and  in 
the  end  both  together  bring  him  back  without  injury  to 
an  even  plane.  The  life  of  an  artist  is  made  up  of  these 
rises  and  falls  of  temperature.  He  is  like  a  man  whose 
work  necessitates  a  deprivation  of  sleep  on  certain  nights 
in  the  week  which  he  is  accustomed  to  make  up  on 
others. 

Keats's  difficulty  lay  in  the  fact  that  he  was  not  in  nor- 
mal health.  He  was  in  no  state  to  stand  successive  shocks 
to  his  nervous  system.  It  took  him  too  long  to  recover,  his 
resiliance  was  entirely  sapped  by  illness.  Every  poem  he 
wrote  shook  his  vitality  to  its  foundations,  and  slowly, 
steadily,  it  gave  way,  until  he  was  powerless  to  live  and 
write,  and  the  writing  had  to  go.  I  have  called  this  chap- 
ter "A  Tide  and  its  Undertow"  advisedly.  Mentally,  he 
was  in  the  heyday  of  maturing  force.  Had  he  been  well, 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  331 

it  is  quite  evident  that  an  almost  torrential  flow  of  poetry 
was  due,  and  that  his  happiness  would  have  been  in  giving 
vent  to  it.  Desperately  ill  as  he  was,  it  was  only  a  ques- 
tion which  could  keep  the  upper  hand,  the  power  of  crea- 
tion, or  the  debility  of  disease,  one  constantly  pushing 
him  forward,  the  other  forever  pulling  him  back.  Not 
until  this  Summer  at  Shanklin  and  Winchester  did  his  dual 
condition  assume  the  aspect  of  a  real  struggle,  and  this, 
sure  to  come  at  last  as  it  was,  might  have  been  postponed 
a  little  longer  had  not  the  wrench  away  from  Fanny  Brawne 
weakened  his  energy  in  other  directions  by  just  the  amount 
needed  to  fight  his  misery.  Effort  became  a  huge  monster 
seeking  to  destroy  him.  He  made  a  gallant  resistance,  but 
escape  he  could  not.  From  this  time  on  he  fought  a  losing 
battle. 

It  was  only  by  fits  and  starts  at  this  period,  however, 
that  Keats  was  aware  of  his  own  growing  inertia.  Im- 
mediately after  his  return  to  Winchester  he  was  in  un- 
usually good  spirits  for  a  while.  For  a  brief  moment, 
poetry  had  an  inning.  The  weather  was  beautiful,  and  he 
thought  he  had  hit  upon  a  plan  which  would  do  away 
with  some,  if  not  all,  of  his  troubles.  I  will  come  to  that 
presently. 

On  Tuesday  and  Wednesday,  Keats  did  a  deal  of  letter 
writing.  To  Dilke  he  wrote:  "Whatever  I  take  to  for  the 
time  I  cannot  leave  off  in  a  hurry;  letter  writing  is  the  go 
now;  I  have  consumed  a  quire  at  least."  Some  of  this  quire 
went  to  Reynolds  and  some  to  Woodhouse.  At  the  mo- 
ment, he  was  so  much  in  love  with  Winchester,  and  his 
description  of  it  sent  to  George,  that  he  copied  it  to  Rey- 
nolds on  Tuesday,  adding: 

"  How  beautiful  the  season  is  now  —  How  fine  the  air  — 
a  temperate  sharpness  about  it.  Really,  without  joking, 
chaste  weather  —  Dian  skies  —  I  never  liked  stubble-field 
so  much  as  now  —  Aye  better  than  the  chilly  green  of 
Spring.  Somehow,  a  stubble-field  looks  warm  —  in  the 


332  JOHN  KEATS 

same  way  that  some  pictures  look  warm.  This  struck  me 
so  much  in  my  Sunday's  walk  that  I  composed  upon  it." 

What  he  composed  was  the  ode  To  Autumn.  His  reference 
to  the  "chilly  green  of  Spring,"  points  clearly  to  the  Eve 
of  St.  Mark.  I  imagine  him  to  have  been  working  at  St. 
Mark  before  his  walk,  and  that,  on  coming  in,  he  immedi- 
ately wrote  To  Autumn  as  a  sort  of  companion  piece  and 
antithesis.  There  is  another  correspondence  between  the 
two  poems  in  this  sentence  of  the  letter,  which  follows 
shortly  after  the  one  I  have  quoted: 

11 1  always  somehow  associate  Chatterton  with  autumn. 
He  is  the  purest  writer  in  the  English  Language.  He  has 
no  French  idiom  or  particles,  like  Chaucer  —  'tis  genuine 
English  Idiom  in  English  words." 

It  has  long  been  known  that  Keats  copied  out  the  ode  To 
Autumn  in  the  letter  written  that  same  day  to  Woodhouse, 
but  for  many  years  this  letter  was  supposed  to  be  irrecover- 
ably lost,  as  all  trace  of  it  had  vanished.  It  was  my  good 
fortune  to  buy  it,  quite  unwittingly,  with  a  number  of 
other  letters  written  by  Keats,  over  twenty  years  ago,  but 
I  have  only  recently  discovered  its  history.  This  whole 
collection  of  letters  was  bequeathed  by  Woodhouse  to 
Taylor,  and  on  Taylor's  death  passed  into  the  possession  of 
a  niece  who,  many  years  later,  sold  them  at  auction.  They 
were  bought  by  a  London  book-seller  from  whom  I  pur- 
chased them.  I  allowed  this  "lost"  letter  to  be  printed  in 
the  Keats  Memorial  Volume ',  and  I  reproduce  it  here  directly 
from  the  original.1 

"Tuesday. 
DEAR  WOODHOUSE, 

If  you  see  what  I  have  said  to  Reynolds  before  you  come 
to  your  own  dose  you  will  put  it  between  the  bars  unread; 

1  At  the  time  the  copy  was  made  for  the  Keats  Memorial  Volume,  I  was 
ill  and  unable  to  go  over  the  transcription,  which,  I  fear,  contained  errors. 
The  letter  as  here  printed  is  absolutely  correct. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  333 

provided  they  have  begun  fires  in  Bath.  I  should  like  a  bit 
of  fire  to  night  —  one  likes  a  bit  of  fire.  How  glorious  the 
Blacksmith's  shops  look  now.  I  stood  to  night  before  one 
till  I  was  very  near  listing  for  one.  Yes  I  should  like  a  bit 
of  fire  —  at  a  distance  about  4  feet '  not  quite  hob  nob'  —  as 
Wordsworth  says.  The  fact  was  I  left  Town  on  Wednesday 

—  determined  to  be  in  a  hurry.   You  don't  eat  travelling 

—  you're  wrong  —  beef  —  beef  —  I  like  the  look  of  a  sign. 
The  Coachman's  face  says  eat  eat,  eat.   I  never  feel  more 
contemptible  than  when  I  am  sitting  by  a  goodlooking 
coachman.  One  is  nothing.  Perhaps  I  eat  to  persuade  my- 
self I  am  somebody.  You  must  be  when  slice  after  slice  — 
but  it  wont  do  —  the  Coachman  nibbles  a  bit  of  bread  — 
he's  favour'd  —  he's  had  a  Call  —  a  Hercules  Methodist. 
Does  he  live  by  bread  alone?    O  that  I  were  a  Stage 
Manager  —  perhaps  that's  as  old  as  doubling  the  Cape. 
'How  are  ye  old  'un?  hey!  why  dont'e  speak?'  O  that  I 
had  so  sweet  a  Breast  to  sing  as  the  Coachman  hath!  I'd 
give  a  penny  for  his  Whistle  —  and  bow  to  the  Girls  on 
the  road — Bow — nonsense — 'tis  a  nameless  graceful  slang 
action.    Its  effect  on  the  women  suited  to  it  must  be  de- 
lightful.   It  touches  'em  in  the  ribs  —  en  passant  —  very 
off  hand  —  very  fine  —  Sed  thougum  formosa  vale  vale 
inquit,  Heigho  la!   You  like  poetry  better  —  so  you  shall 
have  some  I  was  going  to  give  Reynolds. 

Season  of  Mists  and  mellow  fruitfulness, 

Close  bosom  friend  of  the  maturing  sun ; 
Conspiring  with  him  how  to  load  and  bless 

The  vines  with  fruit  that  round  the  thatch  eaves  run; 
To  bend  with  apples  the  moss'd  cottage  trees, 

And  fill  all  fruit  with  ripeness  to  the  core; 

To  swell  the  gourd,  and  plump  the  hazle-shells 
With  a  white  kernel ;  to  set  budding  more, 

And  still  more  later  flowers  for  the  bees 

Untill  they  think  warm  days  will  never  cease 

For  summer  has  o'er  brimmed  the[i]r  clammy  Cells. 

Who  hath  not  seen  thee  oft,  amid  thy  stores? 
Sometimes,  whoever  seeks  abroad  may  find 


334  J°HN  KEATS 

Thee  sitting  careless  on  a  granary  floor, 

Thy  hair  soft-lifted  by  the  winnowing  wind; 
Or  on  a  half  reap'd  furrow  sound  asleep, 

Dased  with  the  fume  of  poppies,  while  thy  hook 

Spares  the  next  swath  and  all  its  twined  flowers; 
And  sometimes  like  a  gleaner  thou  dost  keep 
Steady  thy  laden  head  across  a  brook; 
Or  by  a  Cyder  press,  with  patient  look, 

Thou  watchest  the  last  oozings  hours  by  hours. 

Where  are  the  songs  of  spring?  Aye,  where  are  they? 

Think  not  of  them,  thou  hast  thy  music  too. 
While  barred  clouds  bloom  the  soft-dying  day 

And  touch  the  stubble  plains  with  rosy  hue: 
Then  in  a  wailful  quire  the  small  gnats  mourn 

Among  the  river  sallows,  borne  aloft 

Or  sinking  as  the  light  wind  lives  and  dies; 
And  full  grown  Lambs  loud  bleat  from  hilly  bourne: 

Hedge  crickets  sing,  and  now  with  treble  soft 

The  Redbreast  whistles  from  a  garden  Croft 
And  gathered  Swallows  twitter  in  the  Skies. 

I  will  give  you  a  few  lines  from  Hyperion  on  account  of  a 
word  in  the  last  line  of  a  fine  sound. 

1  Mortal !  that  thou  mays't  understand  aright 
I  humanize  my  sayings  to  thine  ear, 
Making  comparisons  of  earthly  things; 
Or  thou  might'st  better  listen  to  the  wind 
Though  it  blows  legend-laden  through  the  trees. 

I  think  you  will  like  the  following  description  of  the 
Temple  of  Saturn. 

I  look'd  around  upon  the  carved  sides 
Of  an  old  Sanctuary,  with  roof  august 
Builded  so  high,  it  seem'd  that  filmed  clouds 
Might  sail  beneath,  as  o'er  the  stars  of  heaven. 
So  old  the  place  was  I  remember  none 
The  like  upon  the  earth ;  what  I  had  seen 
Of  grey  Cathedrals,  buttress'd  walls,  rent  towers- 
The  superannuations  of  sunk  realms, 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  335 

Or  nature's  rocks  hard  toil'd  in  winds  and  waves, 

Seem'd  but  the  failing  of  decrepit  things 

To  that  eternal-domed  monument. 

Upon  the  marble,  at  my  feet,  there  lay 

Store  of  strange  vessels  and  large  draperies 

Which  needs  had  been  of  dyed  asbestos  wove, 

Or  in  that  place  the  moth  could  not  corrupt, 

So  white  the  linen,  so,  in  some  distinct 

Ran  imageries  from  a  sombre  loom. 

All  in  a  mingled  heap  confused  there  lay 

Robes,  golden  tongs,  censer  and  chafing  dish 

Girdles,  and  chains  and  holy  jewelries. 

Turning  from  these,  with  awe  once  more  I  rais'd 

My  eyes  to  fathom  the  space  every  way; 

The  embossed  roof,  the  silent  massive  range 

Of  Columns  north  and  south,  ending  in  Mist 

Of  nothing;  then  to  the  eastward  where  black  gates 

Were  shut  against  the  Sunrise  ever  more. 

I  see  I  have  completely  lost  my  direction.  So  I  e'n  make 
you  pay  double  postage.  I  had  begun  a  sonnet  in  french  of 
Ronsard  —  on  my  word  'tis  very  capable  of  poetry.  I  was 
stop'd  by  a  circumstance  not  worth  mentioning.  I  intended 
to  call  it  La  Platonique  Chevalresque  —  I  like  the  second 
line  — 

Non  ne  suis  si  audace  a  languire 

De  m'empresser  au  coeur  nos  tendres  mains.  &c. 

Here  is  what  I  had  written  for  a  sort  of  induction  — 
Fanatics  have  their  dreams  wherewith  they  weave 
A  Paradise  for  a  Sect;  the  savage  too 
From  forth  the  loftiest  fashion  of  his  sleep 
Guesses  at  Heaven:  pity  these  have  not 
Trac'd  upon  vellum  or  wild  indian  leaf 
The  shadows  of  melodious  utterance: 
But  bare  of  laurel  they  live,  dream,  and  die, 
For  Poesy  alone  can  tell  her  dreams, 
With  the  fine  spell  of  words  alone  can  save 
Imagination  from  the  sable  charm 
And  dumb  enchantment. 


336  JOHN  KEATS 

My  poetry  will  never  be  fit  for  anything  it  does  n't 
cover  its  ground  well.  You  see  he  she  is  off  her  guard  and 
does  n't  move  a  peg  though  Prose  is  coming  up  in  an  awk- 
ward style  enough.  Now  a  blow  in  the  spondee  wo'd  finish 
her  but  let  it  get  over  this  line  of  circumvallation  if  it 
can.  These  are  unpleasant  Phrase. 

Now  for  all  this  you  two  must  write  me  a  letter  apiece  — 
for  as  I  know  you  will  interread  one  another.  I  am  still 
writing  to  Reynolds  as  well  as  yourself.  As  I  say  to  George 
I  am  writing  to  you  but  at  your  Wife  —  And  dont  forget  to 
tell  Reynolds  of  the  fairy  tale  Undine.  Ask  him  if  he  has 
read  any  of  the  American  Brown's l  novels  that  Hazlitt 
speaks  so  much  of.  I  have  read  one  call'd  Wieland  —  very 
powerful  —  something  like  Godwin.  Between  Schiller  and 
Godwin.  A  Domestic  prototype  of  Shiller's  Armenian. 
More  clever  in  plot  and  incident  than  Godwin.  A  strange 
american  scion  of  the  German  trunk.  Powerful  genius 
—  accomplish'd  horrors  —  I  shall  proceed  tomorrow. 
Wednesday  —  I  am  all  in  a  Mess  here  —  embowell'd  in 
Winchester.  I  wrote  two  Letters  to  Brown  one  from  said 
Place,  and  one  from  London,  and  neither  of  them  has 
reach 'd  him.  I  have  written  him  a  long  one  this  morning 
and  am  so  perplex'd  as  to  be  an  object  to  Curiosity  to  you 
quiet  People.  I  hire  myself  a  show  waggon  and  a  trumpet- 
our.  Here's  the  wonderful  Man  whose  Letters  wont  go!  — 
All  the  infernal  imaginary  thunderstorms  from  the  Post- 
office  are  beating  upon  me  —  so  that  'unpoeted  I  write.' 
Some  curious  body  has  detained  my  Letters.  I  am  sure  of 
it.  They  know  not  what  to  make  of  me  —  not  an  acquaint- 
ance in  the  Place  —  what  can  I  be  about?  so  they  open 
my  Letters.  Being  in  a  lodging  house,  and  not  so  self  will'd, 
but  I  am  a  little  cowardly  I  dare  not  spout  my  rage  against 
the  Ceiling.  Besides  I  should  be  run  through  the  Body  by 
the  major  in  the  next  room.  I  don't  think  his  wife  would 
attempt  such  a  thing.  Now  I  am  going  to  be  serious. 
After  revolving  certain  circumstances  in  my  Mind;  chiefly 
connected  with  the  late  american  letter  —  I  have  de- 
termined to  take  up  my  abode  in  a  cheap  Lodging  in  Town 
and  get  employment  in  some  of  our  elegant  Periodical 

1  Charles  Brockden  Brown.  1771-1810. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  337 

Works.  I  will  no  longer  live  upon  hopes.  I  shall  carry  my 
plan  into  execution  speedily  —  I  shall  live  in  Westminster 
—  from  which  a  walk  to  the  British  Museum  will  be  noisy 
and  muddy  —  but  otherwise  pleasant  enough.  I  shall 
enquire  of  Hazlitt  how  the  figures  of  the  market  stand.  O 
that  I  could  something  agrestunal,  pleasant,  fountain- 
voic'd  —  not  plague  you  with  unconnected  nonsense  — 
But  things  won't  leave  me  alone.  I  shall  be  in  Town  as  soon 
as  either  of  you.  I  only  wait  for  an  answer  from  Brown :  if 
he  receives  mine  which  is  now  a  very  moot  point.  I  will 
give  you  a  few  reasons  why  I  shall  persist  in  not  publishing 
The  Pot  of  Basil.  It  is  too  smokeable.  I  can  get  it  smoak'd 
at  the  Carpenters  shaving  chimney  much  more  cheaply. 
There  is  too  much  inexperience  of  line,  and  simplicity  of 
knowledge  in  it  —  which  might  do  very  well  after  one's 
death,  but  not  while  one  is  alive.  There  are  very  few 
would  look  to  the  reality.  I  intend  to  use  more  finesse  with 
the  Public.  It  is  possible  to  write  fine  things  which  cannot 
be  laugh 'd  at  in  any  way.  Isabella  is  what  I  should  call 
were  I  a  reviewer  'A  weak-sided  Poem'  with  an  amusing 
sober-sadness  about  it.  Not  that  I  do  not  think  Reynolds 
and  you  are  quite  right  about  it  —  it  is  enough  for  me.  But 
this  will  not  do  to  be  public.  If  I  may  so  say,  in  my  dra- 
matic capacity  I  enter  fully  into  the  feeling:  but  in  Propria 
Persona  I  should  be  apt  to  quiz  it  myself.  There  is  no 
objection  of  this  kind  to  Lamia  —  A  good  deal  to  S*. 
Agnes  Eve  —  only  not  so  glaring.  Would  as  I  say  I  could 
write  you  something  sylvestian.  But  I  have  no  time  to 
think:  I  am  an  otiosus-preoccupatus  Man.  I  think  upon 
crutches,  like  the  folks  in  your  Pump  room.  Have  you 
seen  old  Bramble1  yet  —  they  say  he's  on  his  last  legs.  The 
gout  did  not  treat  the  old  Man  well  so  the  Physician  super- 
seded it,  and  put  the  dropsy  in  office,  who  gets  very  fat 
upon  his  new  employment,  and  behaves  worse  than  the 
other  to  the  old  Man.  But  he'll  have  his  house  about  his 
ears  soon.  We  shall  have  another  fall  of  Siege-arms.  I 
suppose  Mrs.  Humphrey  persists  in  a  big-belley  —  poor 
thing  she  little  thinks  how  she  is  spoiling  the  corners  of 
her  mouth  —  and  making  her  nose  quite  a  piminy.  Mr. 

1  The  old  squire  in  Smollett's  Humphrey  Clinker. 


'338  JOHN  KEATS 

Humphrey  I  hear  was  giving  a  Lecture  in  the  gaming-room 
—  when  some  one  call'd  out  Sponsey !  I  hear  too  he  has 
received  a  challenge  from  a  gentleman  who  lost  that  eve- 
ning. The  fact  is  Mr.  H.  is  a  mere  nothing  out  of  his 
Bath-room.  Old  Tabitha1  died  in  being  bolstered  up  for  a 
whist  party.  They  had  to  cut  again.  Chowder2  died  long 
ago  —  Mrs.  H.  laments  that  the  last  last  time  they  put 
him  (i.e.  to  breed)  he  didn't  take.  They  say  he  was  a  direct 
descendent  of  Cupid  and  Veny  in  the  Spectator.  This  may 
be  easily  known  by  the  Parish  Books.  If  you  do  not  write 
in  the  course  of  a  day  or  two  —  direct  to  me  at  Rice's.  Let 
me  know  how  you  pass  your  times  and  how  you  are. 

Your  sincere  friend 

JOHN  KEATS 
Hav'nt  heard  from  Taylor." 

There  is  so  much  to  remark  about  this  letter  that  I  am 
almost  at  a  loss  where  to  begin.  I  have  already  spoken  at 
such  length  on  the  ode  To  Autumn,  both  here  and  in  an 
earlier  chapter,8  that  it  is  unnecessary  to  say  much  more. 
To  Autumn  ranks  with  the  Grecian  Urn  and  the  Nightin- 
gale as  one  of  Keats's  best  odes.  It  is  important  to  note 
how  subtly  it  differs  from  either  of  those  poems,  chiefly 
from  the  fact  that  it  is  totally  devoid  of  any  suggestion 
beyond  itself.  There  was  an  undercurrent  of  meaning  and 
emotion  in  all  the  Spring  odes  which  To  Autumn  is  con- 
spicuously without.  It  is  picture  and  no  more.  Its  emo- 
tion, so  far  as  it  has  any,  is  the  mere  delight  of  sensation 
received  through  the  eyes,  ears,  nose,  and  even  touch,  the 
touch  of  wind  and  sun  on  an  eager  skin.  To  Autumn  is  an 
almost  completely  impersonal  poem.  The  poet  himself  is 
merely  an  exquisitely  sensitive  recording  medium.  The 
charm  of  the  poem  lies  in  just  this  fact,  that  nothing  comes 
between  us  and  the  day  Keats  wished  us  to  see.  There 
are  no  echoes,  no  literary  images,  all  is  clear,  single,  and 
perfectly  attuned.  Keats  excluded  himself,  but  the  artist 

1  Tabitha  Bramble,  the  squire's  sister.  8  Tabitha  Bramble's  dog. 

1  See  Vol.  I,  pp.  503-504- 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW          339 

in  him  was  never  more  alive.  He  adds  a  line  to  the  stanza 
form  of  his  previous  odes,  but  adds  it  as  penultimate,  so 
keeping  his  rhyme  pattern  intact.  Oh,  the  excellent  musi- 
cian that  was  Keats! 

And  now  I  come  to  Hyperion— Hyperion  which  has  been 
dodging  past  us  for  so  long.  I  have  waited  to  speak  of  it 
until  we  reached  this  letter,  for,  without  it,  it  was  impossible 
to  explain  all  the  steps  which  have  led  me  to  a  startling 
discovery.  Before  revealing  this,  however,  I  wish  to  make 
a  few  things  quite  plain.  Hyperion,  both  versions,  was 
written  on  a  theory;  it  was  one  of  those  efforts  to  discover 
a  direction  which  we  have  seen  Keats  so  much  occupied 
with  all  the  previous  Autumn  and  Winter.  Keats  had  con- 
ceived the  idea  of  writing  a  poem  on  the  subject  of  Hype- 
rion while  he  was  still  at  work  on  Endymion,  but  in  what 
form  the  poem  was  to  be  written  he  took  some  time  to  de- 
cide. The  only  thing  he  seems  to  have  been  fully  deter- 
mined about  was  that  it  should  in  no  way  resemble  the 
form  of  Endymion.  Let  me  state  at  the  outset  that  I  quite 
agree  with  Keats  in  considering  the  result  —  or  at  least  one 
of  the  results  —  a  failure,  the  other  is  too  fragmentary  to 
enable  us  to  come  to  a  final  decision  concerning  it. 

Keats  worked  indefatigably  at  his  idea.  He  tried  it, 
gave  it  up;  tried  it  on  another  plan,  and  gave  that  up;  went 
back  to  his  first  attempt,  tinkered  —  tinkered  —  but  was 
never  satisfied.  Keats  knew  that  Hyperion  was  a  good 
imitation  of  a  manner,  but  felt  underneath  that  the  man- 
ner did  not  fit  him,  that  it  was  stilted  and  unnatural.  He 
says  as  much  about  the  second  version,  the  published 
Hyperion,  and  although  illness  took  him  before  he  had 
said  much  about  the  other,  the  very  little  he  had  done  on 
it,  does,  I  believe,  prove  my  point. 

I  realize  that  to  students  of  Keats  I  make  a  strange 
statement  in  speaking  of  a  version  of  Hyperion  begun  and 
abandoned,  another  begun  and  left  off,  and  the  first  taken 
up  again.  I  am  quite  aware  that  recent  criticism  believes 


34o  JOHN  KEATS 

the  published  Hyperion  to  have  been  the  poem  which  Keats 
started  during  Tom's  illness;  and  the  (so-called)  Fall  or 
Vision  of  Hyperion  to  be  a  recast.  The  authority  for  this 
opinion  is  Brown,  who  has  stated  that  in  the  evenings 
during  November  and  December,  1819,  Keats  was  "re- 
modelling the  fragment  of  'Hyperion'  into  the  form  of 
a  'Vision.' "  I  think  it  very  likely  that  Keats  was  working 
on  the  Vision  during  these  months,  more  likely  still  that 
he  told  Brown  he  was  going  to  do  so,  and  tried,  only  to 
be  once  more  baffled;  but  I  most  surely  believe  that  he 
had  begun  it  much  earlier,  probably  before  the  other. 

Brown  was  not  always  accurate  in  his  recollections,  and 
we  must  constantly  remember  that  these  statements  of  his 
are  the  work  of  a  twenty-year-old  memory.  For  instance, 
in  one  thing  we  must  suppose  him  to  be  either  wrong  or 
confused.  He  told  Lord  Houghton  that  Hyperion  was 
begun  after  Tom's  death  when  Keats  had  come  to  live  with 
him  at  Wentworth  Place.  But  was  it? 

The  attempt  to  unravel  Keats's  work  at  Well  Walk 
before  Tom's  death,  and  his  work  at  Wentworth  Place 
after  Tom's  death,  is  not  a  little  puzzling,  but  there  are 
certain  indications  in  the  letters  which  may  give  us  a  clue. 
First,  there  is  the  letter  to  Dilke  of  September  twenty- 
first,  1818,  in  which  Keats  describes  himself  as  obliged  to 
"plunge  into  abstract  images"  to  relieve  himself  of  the 
thought  of  Tom.  Then  there  is  the  sentence  in  the  letter 
to  Reynolds,  written  on  either  the  same  day  or  the  next: 
"This  morning  Poetry  has  conquered  —  I  have  relapsed 
into  those  abstractions  which  are  my  only  life,"  and  it  can 
hardly  be  supposed  that  the  translation  from  Ronsard, 
which  he  quotes  shortly  after,  accounts  for  all  the  "  abstrac- 
tions." Finally  there  is  the  reference  to  Saturn  and  Ops  in 
the  letter  to  Woodhouse  of  October  twenty-seventh,  1818. 
All  this  seems  to  point  to  some  sort  of  a  beginning  made  on 
the  poem,  particularly  when  we  compare  these  sentences 
with  another  in  the  October,  1818,  letter  to  George,  where 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  34i 

he  says  that  he  has  "  too  many  interruptions  to  a  train  of 
feeling  to  be  able  to  write  Poetry/'  This  looks  very  much 
as  though  he  had  been  trying  to  write  and  could  not  make 
a  go  of  it.  A  little  later  on,  we  have  what  I  believe  to  be 
corroborative  proof  that  Keats  had  done  some  of  Hyperion 
at  Well  Walk.  Writing  to  George  on  a  Thursday  in  De- 
cember from  Wentworth  Place,  Keats  says:  "I  am  passing 
a  Quiet  day  —  which  I  have  not  done  for  a  long  while  — 
and  if  I  do  continue  so,  I  feel  I  must  again  begin  with  my 
poetry,"  and  under  the  date  of  "Friday"  (evidently  the 
next  day)  he  adds: "  I  think  you  knew  before  you  left  Eng- 
land, that  my  next  subject  would  be '  the  fall  of  Hyperion/ 
I  went  on  with  it  a  little  last  night,  but  it  will  take  some  time 
to  get  into  the  vein  again."  Now  here  Keats  speaks  of  the 
poem  as  "the  fall  of  Hyperion"  which  he  does  nowhere  else. 
The  manuscript  of  the  Vision  has  disappeared,  but  in  allud- 
ing to  it  in  his  interleaved  copy  of  Endymion  Woodhouse 
calls  it  The  Fall  of  Hyperion,  a  Dream,  and  this  is  the  title 
he  gave  to  his  transcript  of  the  poem  which  Lord  Crewe 
discovered  in  1904.*  It  has  been  suggested,  as  Professor  de 
Selincourt  points  out,  that  the  influence  of  Dante  is  very 
noticeable  in  the  Fall,  or  Vision  as  I  shall  call  it  here.  In  the 
Summer  of  1 81 8,  Keats  had  been  reading  Gary's  translation 
of  Dante  on  his  Scotch  tour,  what  more  natural  then  than 
that  his  first  attempt  at  the  poem  should  be,  if  only  slightly, 
reminiscent  of  Dante.  There  is  no  suggestion  whatever 
of  Dante  in  Hyperion  proper,  and  there  is  no  particular 
reason  why  there  should  be,  if  the  poem  were  begun,  as  I 
believe  and  Brown  definitely  states,  at  Wentworth  Place. 
His  re-reading  of  Dante,  which  produced  his  Paolo  and 
Francesca  sonnet,  post-dates  any  work  done  on  Hyperion. 
My  own  opinion  is  that  when  Keats  returned  to  the  Vision 
after  Tom's  death  he  found  himself  unable  to  recapture  his 
original  mood,  and  therefore  started  the  poem  again  on  an 
altered  plan.  Our  reasoning  has  run  full  circle,  and  in  this 

1  The  Poems  of  John  Keats,  edited  by  E.  de  Selincourt.  Fourth  Edition. 


342  JOHN  KEATS 

instance  we  see  Brown  to  have  been  at  the  same  time  right, 
wrong,  and  confused.  Hyperion  was  undoubtedly  begun  at 
Wentworth  Place  after  Keats  had  abandoned  his  first  at- 
tempt at  the  subject,  which  was  the  Vision  —  so  far  Brown 
was  right;  but  he  was  wrong  to  suppose  the  Vision  to  have 
been  the  second  version  of  the  poem;  and  he  was  confused 
in  not  realizing  that  an  earlier  version  than  the  one  he 
first  knew  had  been  started  at  Well  Walk. 

But  the  evidence  just  presented  is  by  no  means  all  upon 
which  I  base  my  conclusion.  There  is  considerably  more. 
Writing  to  George  on  the  twenty-first  of  September,  1819, 
Keats  says:  "I  shall  never  become  attached  to  a  foreign 
idiom,  so  as  to  put  it  into  my  writings.  The  Paradise  Lost, 
though  so  fine  in  itself,  is  a  corruption  of  our  language  ...  I 
have  but  lately  stood  on  my  guard  against  Milton.  Life  to 
him  would  be  death  to  me  ...  I  wish  to  devote  myself  to 
another  verse  alone."  The  clue  to  that  passage  is  in  the 
letter  written  the  very  next  day  to  Reynolds,  where  he 
announces  flatly:  "I  have  given  up  Hyperion  —  there 
were  too  many  Miltonic  inversions  in  it."  He  goes  on  to 
ask  Reynolds  to  mark  those  lines  in  Hyperion  which  seem 
to  him  to  contain  "the  false  beauty  proceeding  from  art" 
and  those  which  have  the  "  true  voice  of  feeling."  Already, 
in  April,  he  had  told  Woodhouse  that  he  should  not  go  on 
with  the  poem,  and  that  this  was  Hyperion  is  evident  from 
Woodhouse's  distinct  statement  that  the  fragment  con- 
sisted of  "about  900  lines."  The  published  version  has 
883  lines,  but  the  Vision  never  got  beyond  one  and  a  half 
Cantos,  in  all  506  lines.  We  know  that  Keats's  remarks  of 
this  sort  are  not  always  to  be  taken  as  final,  and  from  his 
saying  to  Bailey  in  August:  "I  have  been  writing  parts  of 
my  'Hyperion,'"  I  presume  that  he  still  had  thoughts  of 
returning  to  it.  Now,  in  Winchester,  having  glanced  over 
the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes ,  worked  at  it  a  little  and  found  it  good, 
having  written  the  ode  To  Autumn  and  found  that  good 
also,  he  was  moved  to  take  a  look  at  Hyperion  and  that  he 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  343 

found  not  good.    Hence  the  decision  to  abandon  it  ex- 
pressed to  Reynolds. 

Now  here  is  my  bomb-shell !  The  "  lines  from  Hyperion" 
(at  this  time,  Keats  called  both  versions  so  indiscrimi- 
nately) which  contained  the  word  "of  a  fine  sound"  in  this 
"lost"  letter  to  Woodhouse  are  the  beginning  of  the 
Second  Canto  of  the  Vision,  and  the  "description  of  the 
Temple  of  Saturn,"  quoted  immediately  after,  are  lines 
60  to  86  of  the  First  Canto.  What  does  this  mean?  It 
means,  I  think,  that,  having  been  disappointed  in  the  effect 
which  the  re-reading  of  Hyperion  made  upon  him,  he  got 
out  what  he  had  written  of  the  Vision  and  was  at  once 
struck  with  its  possibilities.  I  am  inclined  to  think  the 
fragment  as  it  stood  ended  somewhere  in  the  First  Canto, 
perhaps  the  whole  of  the  First  Canto  had  been  written, 
and  that  Keats  tried  his  hand  at  continuing  it  then  and 
there;  else  why  should  the  quotations  be  out  of  order.  If 
his  "legend-laden"  wind  were  an  immediate  conception, 
it  was  quite  natural  that  he  should  dash  it  off  to  Wood- 
house,  and  go  back  to  the  earlier  lines  afterwards. 

That  he  turned  back  to  the  poem  again  a  little  later,  we 
see  by  his  quoting  the  very  beginning  of  Canto  I  after 
mentioning  the  projected  French  sonnet.  Observe  that  he 
introduces  it  by  saying:  "Here  is  what  I  had  written  for  a 
sort  of  induction,"  not  "have,"  as  though  he  had  just  com- 
posed it,  but  "had,"  which  is,  I  think,  pretty  conclusive 
proof  that  the  lines  were  old  work.  There  is  also  another, 
what  we  may  call  a  psychological,  suggestion  here.  Keats 
was  reading  Ronsard  in  September,  1818,  and  it  was  in  the 
very  letter  to  Reynolds  of  September  twenty-first  of  that 
year,  the  one  in  which  he  speaks  of  relapsing  into  "those 
abstractions  which  are  my  only  life,"  that  he  copies  his 
translation  of  one  of  Ronsard's  sonnets.  Now,  a  year  later, 
he  is  musing  on  a  sonnet  to  be  written  "in  french  of  Ron- 
Sard  "  and  suddenly  he  is  reminded  of  what  he  was  writing 
the  year  before  just  when  he  was  reading  Ronsard,  it  was 


344  JOHN  KEATS 

the  beginning  of  the  Vision,  whereupon  he  goes  back  to 
his  old  manuscript  again  and  copies  this  beginning  for 
Woodhouse.  Is  it  not  possible  that  we  have  in  this  re- 
miniscence, if  not  the  actual  date,  at  least  one  only  a  few 
days  subsequent  to  it,  of  his  first  putting  pen  to  paper  on 
the  subject  of  Hyperion,  for  it  was  also  on  September 
twenty-first,  1818,  that  he  wrote  the  letter  to  Dilke  which 
I  gave  as  the  first  witness  to  my  argument?  In  Poems  Hyl 
Woodhouse  refers  to  some  lines  of  Ronsard  in  connection 
with  a  certain  passage  in  Hyperion*  so  that  Ronsard's 
connection  with  the  subject  is  not  a  mere  figment  of  my 
fancy.  It  is  obvious  that  his  reading  of  the  Vision  was 
subsequent  to  his  writing  to  Reynolds,  or  he  would  cer- 
tainly have  asked  Reynolds  to  look  over  that  poem  and 
mark  it  also.  We  know  that  he  wrote  to  Reynolds  before 
he  wrote  to  Woodhouse  since  he  tells  Woodhouse  so.  That 
Keats  did  some  work  on  the  Vision  during  the  late  Autumn 
seems  undoubted.  Brown  can  hardly  have  been  entirely 
mistaken  on  that  score,  but  it  must  have  been  largely 
revision,  for  the  fragment  ends  with  the  sixty-third  line  of 
the  Second  Canto.  That  he  did  revise  the  poem  is  evident 
from  the  fact  that  the  lines  here  given  from  Canto  I  are  not 
exactly  like  the  corresponding  lines  in  the  version  pub- 
lished by  Lord  Houghton.8  It  is  perhaps  suggestive  of 
their  immediate  origin  that  the  lines  from  Canto  II  do 
not  differ  at  all  from  those  printed,  although  I  admit  that 
this  is  equally  true  of  the  induction.  What  prevented 
the  completion  of  the  Vision  was  just  what  prevented 
the  completion  of  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark  —  lack  of  vital 
energy. 

After  the  publication  of  this  "lost"  letter  in  the  Me- 
morial Volume,  both  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  and  Professor  de 

1  Crewe  Collection. 

2  Quoted  in  the  Addenda  to  the  Notes  of  Professor  de  Selincourt's  The 
Poems  of  John  Keats.  Fourth  Edition. 

8  Bibliographical  and  Historical  Miscellanies  of  the  Philobiblon  Society. 
(1856-1857)  Vol.  III. 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  345 

S61incourt  went  on  record l  as  believing  the  Vision  to  have 
been  entirely  written  at  Winchester.  This  I  emphatically 
do  not  believe.  If  Keats  had  started  a  new  version  of  his 
poem  in  Winchester,  any  considerable  part  of  a  new  version, 
he  would  without  doubt  have  mentioned  the  fact  to  George 
to  whom  he  had  been  speaking  of  the  progress  of  the  poem 
from  time  to  time.  He  did  not  mention  the  ode  To  Autumn, 
but  that  he  considered  a  short  poem  which  he  could  copy 
later,  while  anything  so  important  as  a  fresh  start  on  his 
epic  would  hardly  have  been  accidentally  omitted  or 
casually  ignored.  That  Brown  thought  the  Vision  to  be  a 
new  thing  in  the  Autumn,  merely  means  that  Keats  had 
not  told  him  of  the  earlier  version  begun  at  Well  Walk.  I 
do  not  think  that  he  wrote  all  that  we  have  of  the  Second 
Canto  at  Winchester,  I  believe  he  only  began  it.  As  to  his 
evening  work  in  the  Autumn,  it  seems  to  me  quite  probable 
that  he  worked  a  little  at  both  versions.  Whatever  he  did, 
it  was  very  little. 

It  is  extremely  difficult,  not  to  say  impossible,  to  deal  at 
all  adequately  with  Hyperion,  not  knowing  just  how  much 
of  the  Vision  was  written  at  Well  Walk  and  how  much  was 
done  in  the  Autumn  of  1819.  The  only  approach  to  a  de- 
finite fact  which  we  have,  is  that  Hyperion  itself  appears 
to  have  all  been  written  during  the  Winter  of  1818-19  at 
Wentworth  Place.  The  more  we  come  to  examine  it,  the 
clearer  it  seems,  that  Hyperion  was  the  direct  result  of  the 
scathing  criticisms  in  Blackwood's  and  the  Quarterly,  but 
in  a  way  just  the  reverse  of  the  old  accepted  view.  Keats's 
original  idea,  as  we  see  by  the  Vision,  was  to  show  a  poet 
questioning  himself,  his  vocation,  demanding  of  the  past 
where  he  and  his  kind  stand  in  the  scheme  of  things.  Of 
what  value  are  he  and  his  work?  It  is  really  much  the  same 
idea  which  he  had  speculated  on  to  Bailey  in  his  letter  from 
Burford  Bridge  the  Autumn  before,  and  again,  under  a 
somewhat  changed  aspect,  to  Taylor  from  Shanklin.  The 

1  Letters  to  the  Manchester  Guardian.  September  22,  1922. 


346  JOHN  KEATS 

poet  can  attain  to  the  possibility  of  great  poetry  only  by 
scaling  the  height  of  the  ideal,  the  far-rising  shrine  of  his 
personal,  dedicated  life.  He  must  lose  much  to  gain  more, 
parts  of  his  ego  must  perish  that  sublimer  parts  may  rule. 
This  last  idea  is  given  in  the  form  of  a  symbolical  dream,  in 
which  the  older  gods  are  dethroned  and  overcome  by  their 
more  human  and  beautiful  counterparts,  the  hierarchy  of 
Grecian  mythology.  All  this  comes  precious  near  to  being 
allegory,  but  luckily  never  quite  gets  there.  It  does  not 
get  there  because  Keats  was  working  with  two  entirely 
separate  themes;  one,  the  question  of  the  poet's  value  to 
humanity;  the  other,  a  mythological  narrative,  full  of 
grandeur  certainly,  but  vague  in  outline,  and  although 
capable  of  many  implications,  explicit  in  none.  The  Vision 
was  begun  fairly  in  the  teeth  of  the  reviews,  that  must  be 
fully  understood;  it  was  not  abandoned  until  some  months 
later.  But  why  was  it  abandoned  at  all  ?  That  is  the  im- 
portant question. 

I  think  that  when  Keats,  in  December,  at  Wentworth 
Place,  went  back  to  the  poem,  he  was  suddenly  struck  with 
the  fact  that  his  beginning  opened  itself  to  some  of  the 
same  strictures  which  had  been  made  on  Endymion.  This, 
he  felt,  must  not  be,  his  next  epic  should  in  no  way  fall  foul 
of  any  of  the  objections  which  had  been  made  to  the  earlier 
poem.  There  should  be  nothing  pretty  in  this  new  effort, 
all  should  be  large,  stern,  of  a  sweeping  and  majestic  ut- 
terance. He  would  show  the  world  that  "good  Johnny 
Keats"  was  capable  of  the  grand  style  if  ever  poet  was,  and 
promptly  started  to  remodel  his  poem  and  write  it  as  a 
drama  only,  a  gigantic,  impersonal  drama,  symbolical  for 
those  who  searched  for  symbols,  a  surging,  fulminating  tale 
to  those  who  did  not. 

Keats's  sheer  cleverness  is  to  be  seen  in  no  other  poem  to 
anything  like  the  extent  it  is  in  Hyperion.  That  he  could 
write  it,  is  a  marvel.  For  a  poet  to  write  such  excellent 
poetry  as  so  much  of  Hyperion  is,  in  a  purely  adopted  style, 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  347 

is  a  tour  de  force  of  the  first  order.  Hyperion  is  a  failure, 
not  because  it  is  not  good,  but  because  it  is  not  honest. 
Keats  is  not  speaking  with  his  own  voice,  this  sedate  and 
stately  pattern  is  none  of  his,  there  is  no  settled  conviction 
here.  This  is  merely  a  tracing  from  a  pattern  of  an  older 
age,  and  tracings  are  not  genuine  art  no  matter  how  deftly 
they  are  done. 

Precisely  why  Keats  has  had  so  immense  an  effect  upon 
succeeding  generations  is  that  he  represents  an  original 
inspiration.  He  gave  a  new  direction  to  poetry,  and  this 
direction,  chiefly  through  his  disciple  Tennyson,  has  until 
very  recently  dominated  English  verse.  Even  now,  when 
the  many  feeble  imitations  of  his  manner  have  brought 
about  a  temporary  lull  in  the  popularity  of  his  idiom,  a 
modern  student  can  find  much  of  the  most  evident  of 
present-day  trends  in  his  poems.  It  is  the  simplicity  of  his 
verse,  the  perfectly  straightforward  diction  of  much  of  it, 
the  vividness  of  this  diction,  the  directness  of  his  attack, 
the  fearlessness  of  his  innovations,  for  which  we  value  him 
most  in  this  early  twentieth  century. 

What  Keats  tried  to  do  in  Hyperion,  Milton  did  better; 
what  he  tried  to  do  in  the  odes,  in  La  Belle  Dame  Sans 
Merci,  in  the  Eve  of  St.  Agnes  and  the  Eve  of  St.  Mark, 
diverse  as  these  poems  are  to  one  another,  no  one  has  ever 
approached.  He  gave  up  Hyperion  because  he  could  not 
make  it  fit  with  his  growing  interests,  and  when,  at  Win- 
chester, he  examined  it  again,  he  was  instantly  conscious 
that  this  was  no  work  for  him.  In  saying  to  George:  "I 
wish  to  devote  myself  to  another  verse  alone,"  he  is  telling 
us  all  we  need  to  know. 

But  why,  my  readers  may  ask,  did  Keats  put  no  such 
definite  ban  on  the  evidently  inferior  Vision}  The  an- 
swer is  that  at  least  the  Vision  was  an  autochthonous 
utterance.  This  was  the  poem  he  had  himself  conceived 
and  partly  composed.  Seeing  it  so,  he  felt  it  might  not  be 
impossible  to  resurrect  and  revise  it,  saving  some  of  the 


348  JOHN  KEATS 

best  parts  of  Hyperion  by  its  means,  but  shearing  them 
of  the  tang  of  archaism.  As  an  illustration  of  what  I  mean, 
take  the  line  of  Hyperion: 

"  Came  slope  upon  the  threshold  of  the  West." 

This,  in  the  Vision^  is  altered  to  the  far  simpler  and  less 
tortured: 

"  Is  sloping  to  the  threshold  of  the  West." 

Keats  read,  and  liked,  his  description  of  the  Temple  of 
Saturn.  Much  excellent  work  accomplished  in  the  past 
year  had  emboldened  him  to  snap  his  fingers  at  the  reviews. 
They  could  no  longer  worry  him  even  to  the  extent  of 
making  him  wish  to  write  in  a  way  which  would  be  un- 
assailable. He  would  write  as  he  pleased  and  what  he 
pleased.  If  he  wrote  the  story  of  Hyperion  at  all,  it  should 
be  done  as  his  imagination  dictated.  The  man  who  was  to 
be  the  great  precursor  of  modern  poetry  was  beginning  to 
know  himself  a  little,  and  this  knowledge  taught  him  that 
erudite  copies  are  no  part  of  the  equipment  of  a  major 
poet. 

There  is  much  that  might  be  said  of  both  Hyperion  and 
the  Vision^  but  this  is  not  the  place  for  a  comparative  study 
of  the  two  poems;  space  forbids,  and  we  must  return  to  the 
Woodhouse  letter  before  the  thread  of  it  is  quite  lost. 

Keats's  criticism  of  himself  is  very  interesting,  and  so  is 
his  comparison  of  the  Pot  of  Basil,  Lamia  and  the  Eve  of 
St.  Agnes.  I  think  no  better  description  of  the  Pot  of  Basil 
has  ever  been  made  than  his:  " ' A  weak-sided  Poem'  with 
an  amusing  sober-sadness  about  it." 

One  point  which  he  touches  whimsically  upon  in  his 
letter  had  in  reality  no  whimsicality  about  it.  He  had  not 
received  any  answers  to  the  letters  he  had  written  Brown. 
His  suspicious  nature  took  serious  alarm,  which  he  expresses 
humorously  enough,  but  which  was  nevertheless  only  half 
a  joke.  What  on  earth  was  the  matter?  Why  did  not 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  349 

Brown  answer?  Brown  was  in  Ireland,  consummating  his 
illegal  marriage,  but  Keats  was  ignorant  of  that.  He  was 
particularly  anxious  to  hear  from  Brown,  as  he  wanted  his 
opinion  and  agreement  to  the  plan  he  mentions  to  Wood- 
house,  that  of  living  in  Westminster  and  doing  hack-work 
for  the  magazines. 

It  was  a  plan  which  he  had  been  gradually  fixing  upon 
ever  since  his  return  to  Winchester,  and  the  special  why  of 
it  sprang  from  a  fantastic  sense  of  responsibility  in  regard 
to  George.  Here  is  Keats,  hopelessly  out  of  pocket,  deeply 
in  debt,  definitely  engaged  to  be  married,  and  yet  he  feels 
it  incumbent  on  him  to  say  to  his  brother: 

"  If  I  cannot  remit  you  hundreds,  I  will  tens,  and  if  not 
that,  ones  ...  To  this  end  I  will  devote  whatever  I  may 
gain  for  a  few  years  to  come,  at  which  period  I  must  begin 
to  think  of  a  security  for  my  own  comfort,  when  quiet  will 
become  more  pleasant  to  me  than  the  world." 

And,  lest  George  should  imagine  that  this  entails  a  sac- 
rifice, he  adds: 

"  In  all  this  do  never  think  of  me  as  in  any  way  un- 
happy: I  shall  not  be  so.  I  have  a  great  pleasure  in  think- 
ing of  my  responsibility  to  you,  and  shall  do  myself  the 
greatest  luxury  if  I  can  succeed  in  any  way  so  as  to  be  of 
assistance  to  you." 

Under  the  circumstances,  this  attitude  was  bizarre,  to 
say  the  least;  and  he  seems  not  to  have  been  quite  candid 
in  his  explanation  of  the  matter  to  Fanny  Brawne,  or  she 
misunderstood  the  facts.  But  we  shall  come  to  this  later. 

So  full  was  Keats  of  his  plan,  that,  on  this  same  Wednes- 
day, he  wrote  again  to  Brown  and  also  to  Dilke.  To  the 
latter,  he  made  a  request.  Would  Dilke  look  up  a  lodging 
for  him;  he  is  determined  to  do  "anything  but  Mortgage 
my  Brain  to  Blackwood,"  and  he  is  going  to  start  immedi- 
ately, for,  he  says  with  vigorous  emphasis: 


350  JOHN  KEATS 

"  Wait  for  the  issue  of  this  Tragedy?  No  —  there  cannot 
be  greater  uncertainties  east,  west,  north,  and  south  than 
concerning  dramatic  composition.  How  many  months 
must  I  wait!  Had  I  not  better  look  about  me  now?  ...  I 
have  no  trust  whatever  on  Poetry.  I  don't  wonder  at  it  — 
the  marvel  is  to  me  how  people  read  so  much  of  it." 

To  Brown,  Keats  is  positively  wistful,  detailing  his 
reasons  for  his  decision  and  begging  his  friend  to  approve 
of  his  plan.  He  goes  into  the  facts,  and  his  attitude  toward 
them,  much  more  fully  than  he  does  to  Woodhouse  or 
Dilke: 

"It  is  quite  time  I  should  set  myself  doing  something, 
and  live  no  longer  upon  hopes.  I  have  never  yet  exerted 
myself.  I  am  getting  into  an  idle-minded,  vicious  way  of 
life,  almost  content  to  live  upon  others.  In  no  period  of  my 
life  have  I  acted  with  any  self-will  but  in  throwing  up  the 
apothecary  prefession.  That  I  do  not  repent  of ...  I  have 
not  known  yet  what  it  is  to  be  diligent.  I  purpose  living  in 
town  in  a  cheap  lodging,  and  endeavouring,  for  a  begin- 
ning, to  get  the  theatricals  of  some  paper  . .  .  Look  on  my 
side  of  the  question.  I  am  convinced  I  am  right .  .  .  And 
here  I  will  take  an  opportunity  of  making  a  remark  or  two 
on  our  friendship,  and  on  all  your  good  offices  to  me.  I 
have  a  natural  timidity  of  mind  in  these  matters;  liking 
better  to  take  the  feeling  between  us  for  granted,  than  to 
speak  of  it.  But,  good  God!  what  a  short  while  you  have 
known  me!  ...  You  have  been  living  for  others  more  than 
any  man  I  know  ...  I  had  got  into  a  habit  of  mind  of  look- 
ing towards  you  as  a  help  in  all  difficulties.  This  very  habit 
would  be  the  parent  of  idleness  and  difficulties.  You  will 
see  it  as  a  duty  I  owe  myself  to  break  the  neck  of  it.  I  do 
nothing  for  my  subsistance  —  make  no  exertion.  At  the 
end  of  another  year  you  shall  applaud  me,  not  for  verses, 
but  for  conduct.1* 

By  Thursday,  September  twenty-third,  Brown  had  re- 
turned from  Ireland  and  gone  to  old  Mr.  Dilke's  at  Chi- 
chetser,  where  he  received  four  letters  from  Keats  "all  in  a 


A  TIDE  AND  ITS  UNDERTOW  351 

lump."  He  explained  his  silence  by  the  prevarication  that 
he  had  left  Bedhampton  for  Chichester  while  Keats  was 
still  directing  to  the  former  place. 

Brown  told  Lord  Houghton  that  the  tone  of  Keats's 
letters  brought  him  at  once  to  Winchester,  but  his  coming 
was  not  so  immediate  as  to  preclude  his  sending  his  un- 
candid  explanation  of  the  reason  of  his  silence  to  Keats  by 
letter.  When  he  did  come,  however,  he  felt  constrained  to 
agree  that  Keats  was  wise  in  his  decision  to  try  and  find 
some  remunerative  work,  but  he  strenuously  opposed  the 
Westminster  part  of  the  scheme,  alleging  how  much  he 
should  miss  Keats  from  Wentworth  Place.  What  arguments 
Keats  used  to  persuade  him,  whether  he  hinted  at  the 
disturbing  proximity  of  Fanny  Brawne  or  not,  we  do  not 
know.  The  part  of  his  letter  which  seems  to  contain  this 
information  was  carefully  expunged  by  Brown  before  giv- 
ing the  letter  to  Lord  Houghton.  That  he  was  brought 
round  to  Keats's  way  of  thinking  in  the  end,  is  evident 
from  another  letter  to  Dilke,  written  on  Friday,  October 
first.  Here  Keats  says  specifically:  "I  want  you  to  hire  me 
a  couple  of  rooms  (a  Sitting  Room  and  bed  room  for  my- 
self alone)  in  Westminster."  Toward  the  end  of  the  letter, 
he  assures  Dilke  that  he  and  Brown  will  "be  returned  by 
next  Friday."  On  Sunday,  he  was  so  generous  as  to  write 
to  Haydon  in  answer  to  a  letter  from  that  gentleman 
accusing  him  of  silence.  Keats  does  not  mention  a  syllable 
of  Haydon's  defection  in  not  repaying  the  loan,  but  says 
nice  things  about  his  pictures,  and  asks  him  to  try  and 
procure  a  ticket  to  the  British  Museum,  which,  Keats 
assures  him,  he  shall  make  better  use  of  than  he  did  "in 
the  first  instance."  To  Haydon,  he  says  that  he  shall  not 
be  in  Winchester  "more  than  a  Week  more,"  but  I  think 
the  date  given  to  Dilke  is  probably  the  correct  one  to 
ascribe  to  his  return.  At  any  rate,  on  some  day  between  the 
first  and  the  tenth  of  October,  Keats  and  Brown  turned 
their  backs  on  Winchester  and  hied  them  to  London, 


352  JOHN  KEATS 

Brown  to  Hampstead,  Keats  to  25  College  Street,  West- 
minster, where  Dilke  had  found  him  rooms  according  to 
specifications.  Keats  was  in  high  spirits,  his  sore  throat 
had  temporarily  gone,  and  he  felt  himself  strong  and  girded 
for  a  great  undertaking.  A  greater  than  he  knew,  poor 
fellow!  With  the  closing  of  the  Winchester  chapter,  life 
as  he  had  known  it  hitherto  came  to  an  abrupt  end. 


CHAPTER  XII 
ILLNESS 

THE  probabilities  are  in  favour  of  its  having  been  on 
Friday,  October  eighth,  that  Keats  took  possession  of  his 
College  Street  lodgings,  and  there  is  every  likelihood  that 
it  was  on  the  very  next  day,  Saturday,  that  Severn  dropped 
in  to  see  him  and  welcome  him  back  to  town.  Severn  has 
recorded  that,  on  this  occasion,  he  found  Keats  in  high 
spirits,  full  of  energy  and  animation.  Keats  read  Hyperion 
to  him  (evidently  the  Wentworth  Place  version,  not  the 
Vision)^  and  he  appears  to  have  read  it  chiefly  for  the  pur- 
pose of  getting  Severn's  reaction  to  its  style.  Severn,  who 
was  an  ardent  Miltonian,  "delighted  immeasurably  in 
'Hyperion,'"1  but  said  that  Keats  "seemed  much  more 
taken  up  with  a  rhymed  story  about  a  serpent-girl," 
which  was,  of  course,  Lamia.  Severn  praised  Hyperion  for 
its  Mil  tonic  flavour,  which  only  served  to  confirm  Keats  in 
his  opinion  that  he  had  been  on  the  wrong  tack  in  writing 
it.  He  told  Severn  succinctly  that  he  did  not  want  to 
write  a  poem  "that  might  have  been  written  by  John 
Milton,  but  one  that  was  unmistakably  written  by  no 
other  than  John  Keats." 

On  Sunday,  Keats  did  the  most  natural  thing  in  the 
world,  he  went  out  to  Hampstead,  and  he  and  Fanny 
Brawne  met  once  more.  The  meeting  was  decisive.  The 
sorely  tried  girl  was  overjoyed  to  see  her  lover  again,  and 
was  kindness  itself  to  him.  Even  Keats  could  have  no 
doubt  of  her  love  and  constancy  after  the  greeting  she  ac- 
corded him,  and  the  very  sight  of  her  was  enough  to  banish 
all  his  morbid  intentions  of  weaning  himself  away  from  her. 
He  simply  fell  head  over  heels  in  love  with  her  again,  or,  to 
be  more  exact,  his  feeling  for  her,  which  he  had  been  at 
such  pains  to  smother  with  a  host  of  other  claims  and  im- 

1  Life  of  Joseph  Severn,  by  William  Sharp. 


354  JOHN  KEATS 

portunities,  rose  swiftly  to  the  surface  once  more,  scatter- 
ing every  other  interest  to  the  four  winds.  To  Keats, 
starved,  lonely,  troubled,  the  day  was  nothing  short  of 
divine.  He  came  back  to  the  empty  lodgings  at  College 
Street  in  the  evening  and  at  once  wrote  a  sonnet.  This 
sonnet  can  have  been  no  other  than  The  day  is  gone ',  and  all 
its  sweets  are  gone,  since  it  corresponds  exactly  to  the  senti- 
ments he  expressed  in  a  note  to  Miss  Brawne  written  the 
next  day,  Monday.  Lord  Houghton,  in  printing  it,  gave  the 
date  as  "1819,"  and  there  cannot  be  the  faintest  doubt 
that  its  complete  date  is  October  tenth,  1819.  Here  is  the 
sonnet: 

"The  day  is  gone,  and  all  its  sweets  are  gone! 

Sweet  voice,  sweet  lips,  soft  hand,  and  softer  breast, 
Warm  breath,  light  whisper,  tender  semi-tone, 

Bright  eyes,  accomplished  shape,  and  lang'rous  waist! 
Faded  the  flower  and  all  its  budded  charms, 

Faded  the  sight  of  beauty  from  my  eyes, 
Faded  the  shape  of  beauty  from  my  arms, 

Faded  the  voice,  warmth,  whiteness,  paradise  — 
Vanish 'd  unseasonably  at  shut  of  eve, 

When  the  dusk  holiday  —  or  holinight 
Of  fragrant-curtain'd  love  begins  to  weave 

The  woof  of  darkness  thick,  for  hid  delight; 
But,  as  I've  read  love's  missal  through  to-day, 
He'll  let  me  sleep,  seeing  I  fast  and  pray." 

Not  among  Keats's  best  sonnets  — no,  but  certainly 
among  the  most  pathetic  that  have  ever  been  written.  For 
a  man  of  Keats's  temperament  to  have  gone  off  alone  after 
such  a  day,  was  a  terrible  strain;  and  the  quiet  and  noble 
way  in  which  he  faced  his  destiny  was  magnificent.  His 
letter  tells  the  same  story,  but  in  a  somewhat  more  tem- 
pered form: 

"Mv  SWEET  GIRL, 

I  am  living  today  in  yesterday:  I  was  in  a  complete 
fascination  all  day.  I  feel  myself  at  your  mercy.  Write  me 


ILLNESS  355 

ever  so  few  lines  and  tell  me  you  will  never  for  ever  be  less 
kind  to  me  than  yesterday.  —  You  dazzled  me.  There  is 
nothing  in  the  world  so  bright  and  delicate  .  .  .  When  shall 
we  pass  a  day  alone?  I  have  had  a  thousand  kisses,  for 
which  with  my  whole  soul  I  thank  love  —  but  if  you  should 
deny  me  the  thousand  and  first  —  'twould  put  me  to  the 
proof  how  great  a  misery  I  could  live  through  ...  I  have 
seen  Mrs.  Dilke  this  morning;  she  says  she  will  come  with 
me  any  fine  day. 

Ever  yours 

JOHN  KEATS. 
Ah  hert&mine!" 

There  is  no  mention  of  the  sonnet  in  this  letter,  which 
looks  as  though  Keats  did  not  send  it  to  Miss  Brawne.  It 
said  so  much,  too  much  for  him  to  say  to  her,  he  may  very 
well  have  thought.  This  was  the  early  nineteenth  century, 
remember;  and  Fanny  Brawne  was  only  just  nineteen  and 
a  carefully  nurtured  girl  of  the  straight-laced  middle  class. 
How  scrupulously  Keats  guarded  her  innocence  is  evident 
in  all  his  letters  to  her.  Once  only  did  he  commit  an  indis- 
cretion, and  that  was  when  illness  had  sapped  both  his 
judgment  and  his  will. 

Fanny  Brawne  immediately  sent  him  the  assurance  he 
craved;  it  came  two  days  later,  while  he  was  writing  to  her 
again.  I  do  not  propose  to  give  any  more  of  Keats 's  letters 
to  Miss  Brawne  during  this  period  than  are  absolutely 
necessary  to  a  clear  understanding  of  his  situation,  mental 
and  physical.  They  can  be  read  in  full  in  Buxton  Forman's 
editions.  Certain  extracts,  however,  I  must  give,  and  give 
with  some  completeness.  This  is  a  part  of  what  he  wrote  on 
Wednesday,  October  thirteenth: 

"Mv  DEAREST  GIRL, 

This  moment  I  have  set  myself  to  copy  some  verses  out 
fair.  I  cannot  proceed  with  any  degree  of  content.  I  must 
write  you  a  line  or  two  and  see  if  that  will  assist  in  dismiss- 
ing you  from  my  Mind  for  ever  so  short  a  time.  Upon  my 
Soul  I  can  think  of  nothing  else.  The  time  is  passed  when  I 


356  JOHN  KEATS 

had  power  to  advise  and  warn  you  against  the  unpromising 
morning  of  my  Life.  My  love  has  made  me  selfish.  I  cannot 
exist  without  you.  I  am  forgetful  of  everything  but  seeing 
you  again  —  my  Life  seems  to  stop  there  —  I  see  no  further. 
You  have  absorbed  me.  I  have  a  sensation  at  the  present 
moment  as  though  I  was  dissolving  —  I  should  be  ex- 
quisitely miserable  without  the  hope  of  soon  seeing  you.  I 
should  be  afraid  to  separate  myself  far  from  you.  My 
sweet  Fanny,  will  your  heart  never  change?  My  love,  will 
it?  I  have  no  limit  now  to  my  love  .  .  .  Your  note  came  in 
just  here.  I  cannot  be  happier  away  from  you.  'Tis  richer 
than  an  Argosy  of  Pearles  .  .  .  You  have  ravish *d  me  away 
by  a  Power  I  cannot  resist;  and  yet  I  could  resist  till  I  saw 
you ;  and  even  since  I  have  seen  you  I  have  endeavoured 
often  '  to  reason  against  the  reasons  of  my  Love/  I  can  do 
so  no  more  —  the  pain  would  be  too  great.  My  love  is 
selfish.  I  cannot  breathe  without  you. 

Yours  for  ever 
JOHN  KEATS." 

Keats,  as  I  have  tried  to  show  in  the  last  chapter,  was  in 
no  state  to  bear  undue  excitement  of  any  kind.  His  dread 
of  the  fever  of  composition  was  forcing  itself  upon  his  con- 
sciousness, and  if  the  composition  of  poetry  were  a  strain, 
what  must  the  agitation  of  thwarted  love  have  been.  Yet, 
even  thwarted,  love  had  its  comforts,  and  these  he  craved 
with  his  whole  soul.  Nevertheless,  it  is  quite  clear  that  no 
one  living  in  such  a  mental  turmoil  was  in  a  fit  condition 
to  tramp  up  and  down  the  pavement  of  Grub  Street  seek- 
ing employment.  All  he  could  do,  poor  moth,  was  to  flut- 
ter back  to  the  proximity  of  his  candle.  On  Friday,  he 
journeyed  to  Hampstead  again,  and  this  time  he  made  a 
stay  of  three  days  with  Brown.  Why  Buxton  Forman  and 
Sir  Sidney  Colvin  persist  in  believing  that  he  stayed  with 
the  Brawnes,  I  cannot  imagine,  unless  they  derive  their 
opinion  from  some  source  which  I  have  not  consulted.  On 
Saturday,  October  sixteenth,  he  wrote  to  his  sister.  He 
dates  the  letter  simply  "Wentworth  Place,"  but  in  it  he 
says: 


ILLNESS  357 

44 1  took  lodgings  in  Westminster  for  the  purpose  of  being 
in  the  reach  of  Books,  but  am  now  returned  to  Hampstead 
being  induced  to  it  by  the  habit  I  have  acquired  in  this 
room  I  am  now  in  and  also  from  the  pleasure  of  being  free 
from  paying  any  petty  attentions  to  a  diminutive  house- 
keeping." 

He  had  acquired  no  habit  of  being  in  any  room  at  the 
Brawnes'.  It  is  his  old  room  at  Brown's  to  which  he  re- 
fers. The  reasons  given  to  his  sister  were  not  his  real 
reasons,  however  much  he  may  have  tried  to  induce  himself 
to  believe  in  their  importance;  but  they  were  very  likely 
the  reasons  he  adduced  to  Brown,  who  was  only  too  glad 
to  get  him  back  on  any  terms.  He  does  not  seem  to  have 
told  Fanny  Brawne  of  his  change  of  plan  while  he  was 
at  Hampstead,  yet  he  appears  to  have  contemplated  it 
before  going  out.  He  even  seems  to  have  paid  off  his 
College  Street  landlady  after  a  week  under  her  roof,  for, 
when  he  went  back  to  town,  he  put  up  with  the  Dilkes 
in  Great  Smith  Street;  at  least,  it  was  from  there  that  he 
wrote  to  Fanny  Brawne  on  Tuesday  morning.  In  this 
letter,  we  see  Keats  determined  upon  his  course,  but  rather 
miserably  aware  of  what  that  course  entailed: 

"Mv  SWEET  FANNY, 

On  awaking  from  my  three  days  dream  (4 1  cry  to  dream 
again')  I  find  one  and  another  astonished  at  my  idleness 
and  thoughtlessness.  I  was  miserable  last  night  —  the 
morning  is  always  restorative.  I  must  be  busy,  or  try  to 
be  so.  I  have  several  things  to  speak  to  you  of  tomorrow 
morning.  Mrs.  Dilke  I  should  think  will  tell  you  that  I 
purpose  living  at  Hampstead.  I  must  impose  chains  upon 
myself.  I  shall  be  able  to  do  nothing.  I  should  like  to  cast 
the  die  for  Love  or  death.  I  have  no  Patience  with  any- 
thing else  .  . .  my  mind  is  in  a  tremble,  I  cannot  tell  what  I 
am  writing. 

Ever  my  love  yours 
JOHN  KEATS." 


358  JOHN  KEATS 

The  tenor  of  this  letter  means  that  Keats  was  profoundly 
disappointed  with  himself.  He  believed  that  he  was  spine- 
lessly  allowing  himself  to  follow  the  line  of  least  resistance, 
that  he  was  permitting  the  immediate  necessity  he  felt  to 
be  near  Miss  Brawne  to  unnerve  him  from  doing  the  only 
thing  which  could  bring  them  permanently  together.  He 
saw  himself  playing  the  sentimental  fool  instead  of  getting 
up  and  going  about  his  work  like  a  sensible  fellow.  He  saw 
his  grandiloquent  purpose  of  being  self-supporting  vanish 
from  him  like  an  ever  more  distantly  floating  soap-bubble, 
while  all  he  did  was  to  stand  agape,  enraptured  by  its  irides- 
cent colours.  But  here  Keats  did  himself  a  gross  injustice. 
It  was  not  Fanny  Brawne,  it  was  not  even  love,  which  kept 
him  inert  during  these  days.  It  was  his  health.  He  did  not 
march  boldly  into  the  offices  of  one  or  another  newspaper 
and  request  a  job  at  reviewing  a  play,  or  set  his  pen  to 
scratching  over  paper  at  something  which  was,  if  nothing 
else,  at  any  rate  saleable.  Little  fitted  as  he  was  for  tasks 
like  these,  he  might  at  least  have  made  a  try  at  them.  It 
was  his  health  which  kept  him  quiescent.  He  simply  could 
not  do  what  he  had  planned;  he  had  not  the  strength.  He 
had  exhausted  himself  with  his  Summer's  work.  The 
poetic  urge  which  had  kept  him  up  through  the  Winchester 
days  might  have  held  out  a  little  longer  if  he  had  not  so 
soon  touched  the  fire  of  renewed  sexual  passion,  I  freely  ad- 
mit that.  But  he  had  touched  it,  and  under  the  circum- 
stances probably  the  wisest  course  for  him  to  pursue  was 
the  one  he  took.  His  waning  energy  could  not  have  been 
triumphant  for  very  long,  in  any  case,  and  we  may  be  very 
sure  that  it  could  never  have  survived  any  attempt  at 
work  which  was  not  poetry. 

It  is  quite  natural  that  his  friends,  who  understood  no- 
thing, neither  the  force  of  his  love,  nor  the  devastating  effect 
of  his  disease,  who  did  not,  indeed,  realize  the  presence  of 
disease  at  all,  should  have  been  "astonish'd"  at  finding  all 
his  vigorous  talk  spend  itself  in  melancholy  brooding.  It 


ILLNESS  359 

was  they,  and  their  astonishment,  which  did  him  harm. 
His  only  hope  lay  in  peace  and  idleness,  and  they  urged 
him  to  fresh  endeavour.  It  was  this  terrible,  goading  as- 
tonishment which  heralded  his  first  haemorrhage. 

Keats's  illness  was  dual  in  kind.  He  had  pulmonary  tu- 
berculosis and  laryngeal  tuberculosis.  The  former  had  not 
yet  shown  itself  by  any  symptoms  which  Keats  had  de- 
tected; the  latter  had  been  in  evidence  for  two  years,  but 
the  doctors  whom  Keats  had  consulted  had  failed  to  recog- 
nize it.  If  my  readers  will  turn  back  to  Chapter  VI,  and 
read  once  more  Dr.  Hawes's1  letter  on  the  subject,  they  will 
understand  the  situation  perfectly  and  realize  how  very  long 
it  was  since  Keats  had  been  a  well  man.  Accredited  apoth- 
ecary and  surgeon  though  he  was,  he  failed  to  read  his  own 
symptoms  correctly,  and  scourged  himself  for  his  want  of 
moral  purpose  when  he  might  more  justly  have  plumed 
himself  on  having  kept  at  work  so  long.  To  add  the  last 
straw  to  his  general  debility,  he  suddenly  gave  up  eating 
animal  food,  in  order,  he  tells  his  sister  Fanny,  "  that  my 
brains  may  never  henceforth  be  in  a  greater  mist  than  is 
theirs  by  nature."  No  more  mistaken  course  could  have 
been  adopted,  nor  one  more  speedily  calculated  to  bring 
his  fate  upon  him. 

Keats  probably  returned  to  Hampstead  at  once.  His 
going  back  to  Westminster  at  all  was  undoubtedly  for 
some  practical  reason  like  seeing  Abbey,  or  getting  his 
luggage,  what  there  was  of  it,  which  he  may  have  deposited 
at  the  Dilkes'  on  giving  up  his  lodgings. 

We  have  no  more  letters  from  Keats  for  a  month,  but 
certain  side  winds  have  blown  us  a  little  information  con- 
cerning the  interval.  One  of  these  emanates  from  Severn, 
who  gets  his  dates  wrong,  since  he  appears  to  be  referring 
to  the  Sunday  a  week  after  his  call  at  College  Street,  which 
cannot  possibly  be  the  case.  On  the  other  hand,  it  is  ex- 
tremely likely  that  the  Sunday  he  speaks  of  was  the  first 

*  See  Vol.  I,  p.  514. 


360  JOHN  KEATS 

after  Keats's  definite  return  to  Wentworth  Place.  Severn, 
on  the  Sunday  in  question,  went  out  to  Hampstead  to  see 
Keats  again,  on  which  occasion  he  found  him  "well  neither 
in  mind  nor  in  body,  with  little  of  the  happy  confidence 
and  resolute  bearing  of  a  week  earlier;  while  alternating 
moods  of  apathetic  dejection  and  spasmodic  gaiety  ren- 
dered him  a  companion  somewhat  difficult  to  humour/'1 
However  violent  Keats's  struggle  with  himself  may  have 
been,  however  tantalizing  and  over-exciting  he  may  have 
found  his  constant  intercourse  with  Fanny  Brawne,  we 
cannot  but  see  that,  of  a  choice  of  evils,  living  close  to  her 
at  Brown's  was  the  lesser,  for  he  began  to  write  almost  as 
soon  as  he  was  settled  in  his  old  quarters.  Otho  was  still 
being  copied  by  the  indefatigable  Brown,  and  the  friends 
had  every  hope  of  placing  it  at  Drury  Lane  as  soon  as  it 
was  ready  to  submit  to  the  powers  who  ruled  the  destinies 
of  that  theatre.  So  strong  were  their  hopes  of  it,  that  it 
seemed  to  the  two  young  men  that  Keats  could  not  do 
better  than  to  start  on  another  play  at  once.  Brown  told 
the  story  of  Keats's  second  attempt  at  drama  writing  to 
Lord  Hough  ton  in  these  words: 

2  "As  soon  as  Keats  had  finished  'Otho  the  Great,'  I 
pointed  out  to  him  a  subject  for  an  English  historical 
tragedy  in  the  reign  of  Stephen,  beginning  with  his  defeat 
by  the  Empress  Maud  and  ending  with  the  death  of  his  son 
Eustace.  He  was  struck  with  the  variety  of  events  and 
characters  which  must  necessarily  be  introduced,  and  I 
offered  to  give,  as  before,  their  dramatic  conduct.  'The 
play  must  open,'  I  began,  'with  the  field  of  battle,  when 
Stephen's  forces  are  retreating'  —  'Stop/  he  cried, '  I  have 
been  too  long  in  leading  strings;  I  will  do  all  this  myself/ 
He  immediately  set  about  it,  and  wrote  two  or  three 
scenes." 

Sir  Sidney  Colvin  thinks  that  Brown's  suggestion  was 

1  Life  of  Joseph  Severn,  by  William  Sharp. 

1  Quoted  by  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 


ILLNESS  361 

made,  and  the  "two  or  three  scenes "  (actually  four) 
written,  in  Winchester,  but  that  he  is  in  error  here  seems 
evident  from  the  fact  that  the  manuscript,  of  which  five 
folio  leaves  are  in  Keats's  handwriting  and  three  quarto 
leaves  in  Brown's,1  is  carefully  dated  by  Brown  "Nov. 
1819."  Moreover  there  is  in  existence  a  copy  of  Selden's 
Titles  of  Honour  *  purchased  by  Keats  in  1819,  clearly  in 
order  to  have  constantly  by  him  a  reference  book  as  to  the 
usages,  civil  and  military,  of  the  period.  Surely,  if  Keats 
had  been  at  such  pains  to  inform  himself  on  the  subject  in 
Winchester,  some  of  his  letters  from  there,  full  of  his  work 
as  they  are,  would  have  mentioned  it,  and  none  of  them  do. 
On  the  flyleaves  of  this  volume,  Keats  started  a  method- 
ical index  to  speed  his  labours,  and  that  he  intended  to  refer 
to  it  frequently  we  see  by  his  having  re-numbered  various 
pages  which  are  wrongly  numbered  in  the  text.  Buxton 
Forman  owned  this  book,  but  seems  not  to  have  under- 
stood its  connection  with  the  fragment  of  King  Stephen. 
I  owe  my  realization  of  it  to  my  friend,  Professor  John 
Livingston  Lowes,  who  made  the  important  discovery 
one  evening  at  my  house  when  we  were  examining  the 
book. 

Keats's  annotations,  which  are  few,  are  all  in  Chapter  V, 
which  deals  with  the  English  titles  of  Lords,  etc.  These 
annotations,  meagre  as  they  are,  are  very  interesting.  For 
instance,  it  was  probably  as  a  guide  for  certain  possible 
speeches  that  Keats  marked:  "for  in  those  times  the 
affectation  of  making  words  out  of  that  little  Greek  they 
had  was  frequent  here  in  England."  We  find  him  index- 
ing "Atheling"  and  "Reliefs,"  under  which  latter  head- 
ing we  read  this  important  pointer:  "An  Earl's  Relief 
is  eight  Horse,  four  saddled  and  four  unsaddled,  four 
Helms,  four  Coats  of  Mail,  four  Spears,  as  many  Shields, 
four  Swords,  CC  [two  hundred]  Marks  of  Gold."  Keats 
underscored  a  long  passage  descriptive  of  the  word  "Bel- 

1  Buxton  Forman.  2  Author's  Collection. 


362  JOHN  KEATS 

house,"  and  he  also  annotated  the  suggestive  words:  "Deo 
&  beato  ,/Ethelwoldo."  As  to  matters  directly  bearing  upon 
King  Stephen,  there  is  on  page  536  a  passage  which  reads: 
"Neither  is  this  Charter  against  those  that  say  King  Ste- 
phen created  him.  The  Civil  Warrs  of  that  time  are  well 
known.  And  this  Lord  being  sometimes  of  the  Queen's 
part,  sometimes  of  King  Stephen's,  was  created,  it  seems, 
by  both  as  some  others  were."  Here  Keats  has  underlined: 
"was  created,  it  seems,  by  both  as  some  others  were,"  and 
put  a  cross  against  it  in  the  margin.1 

It  is  not  only  in  the  scored  passages  that  we  find  refer- 
ences which  might  have  been  valuable  to  Keats;  but  we 
must  not  expect,  in  the  very  short  fragment  which  is  all 
that  Keats  wrote  of  the  play,  to  find  these  references  in 
direct  use.  Keats  apparently  intended  to  employ  the  vol- 
ume both  as  a  dictionary  and  a  creator  of  atmosphere.  One 
direct  allusion  we  do  find,  however;  it  derives  from  two  un- 
annotated  passages  which  are  to  this  effect  —  the  first  is  in 
reference  to  King  Stephen's  crown:  "King  Stephen  also  in 
both  [seal  and  coins],  hath  only  a  like  Crown  fleurie";  the 
second  speaks  of  the  titles,  "Duke  of  Cornwal  and  Earl  of 
Chester,"  as  sometimes  given  with  that  of  Prince  of  Wales. 
Now,  in  Scene  I  of  King  Stephen,  Keats  wrote: 

"  Not  twenty  Earls  of  Chester  shall  browbeat 
The  diadem." 

In  King  Stephen,  Keats  was  plainly  imitating  Shake- 
speare in  his  historical  plays.  Not  intentionally,  we  may 
be  sure,  but  because,  in  dealing  with  such  a  subject  in  such 
a  form,  his  mind  fell  naturally  into  the  attitude  and  ca- 
dences of  the  poet  whose  work  in  the  genre  he  had  studied 
with  such  care.  Keats  had  managed  to  free  himself  from 
imitation  in  his  poems,  but  drama  was  too  new  a  vehicle 
for  him  to  have  tracked  his  own  way  in  it  as  yet.  Still  King 
Stephen,  in  spite  of  its  too  slavish  adherence  to  a  model, 

1  For  complete  list  of  annotations,  see  Appendix  C. 


ILLNESS  363 

has  much  beauty,  and  the  model  itself  was  far  more  in- 
digenous to  Keats  than  Milton's  Paradise  Lost  had  been. 
The  first  three  scenes  are  really  extraordinarily  good.  In  a 
half-a-dozen  speeches,  Keats  establishes  a  distinct  charac- 
ter for  his  Stephen;  and  the  Duke  of  Glocester,  although 
drawn  with  a  slighter  line,  stamps  himself  as  a  man  and 
not  an  effigy.  The  bustle  and  shock  of  battle  is  excellently 
given,  and  however  one  may  regret  the  fact  that  Keats 
conceived  his  play  as  a  thing  of  echoes,  one  must  admit 
that  the  echoes  are  superlatively  well  done.  Is  not  this 
good? 

"Now  may  we  lift  our  bruised  vizors  up, 
And  take  the  flattering  freshness  of  the  air, 
While  the  wide  din  of  battle  fades  away 
Into  times  past." 


Or  this? 


"...  He  sole  and  lone  maintains 
A  hopeless  bustle  mid  our  swarming  arms, 
And  with  a  nimble  savageness  attacks." 

Or  this  again: 

"He  shames  our  victory.  His  valour  still 
Keeps  elbow-room  amid  our  eager  swords." 

Yes,  there  is  much  excellence  here;  but,  after  all,  Keats 
is  writing  to  a  pattern,  even  if  the  pattern  would  have 
perfectly  suited  him  had  he  been  his  own  great-great- 
grandfather. For,  as  has  often  been  pointed  out,  Keats  and 
Shakespeare  are  cousins  german  in  their  poetic  points  of 
view,  however  much  the  older  poet  surpassed  the  younger. 
It  is  a  curious  commentary  on  Keats's  natural  diction 
when  in  the  heat  of  his  story  that  the  lines: 

"Another  sword!  And  what  if  I  could  seize 
One  from  Bellona's  gleaming  armoury," 


364  JOHN  KEATS 

were  originally  written: 

"Another  Sword!  for  one  short  minute  longer 
That  I  might  pepper  that  De  Kaims." 

There  is  a  marked  falling  off  in  the  Fourth  Scene,  laid 
in  Queen  Maud's  Presence  Chamber.  We  feel  that  Keats 
approached  it  with  a  flagging  interest;  and  with  the  scene 
the  fragment  ends. 

We  may  urge  our  perspicacity  to  its  utmost,  and  spec- 
ulate among  various  even  chances,  as  to  just  why  Keats 
abandoned  his  play  then  and  there.  The  reasons  so  evoked 
—  inability  to  face  the  imaginative  strain  imposed  by  a 
long  play,  insufficiency  of  atmosphere  in  Selden  to  provoke 
his  inventive  faculty,  a  scene  laid  in  a  period  too  remote  for 
intimacy,  not  remote  enough  for  romance,  a  sudden  change 
of  mood,  the  realization  that  he  was  extremely  ignorant  of 
the  technique  of  dramatic  composition  —  are  all  cogent, 
but  none  of  them  seem  decisive.  Probably  there  was  a 
little  of  all  of  them  in  his  action.  At  any  rate,  the  play  re- 
mained a  fragment. 

With  the  breaking  down  of  King  Stephen,  Brown  found 
himself  once  more  at  a  loss  as  to  what  to  suggest  which 
would  interest  his  friend  and  at  the  same  time  have  a  bear- 
ing on  the  exchequer,  and  he  could  not  help  seeing  that  it 
must  be  something  which  Keats  could  do  without  too  much 
mental  strain  and  with  no  emotional  exactions  whatever. 
He  himself  delighted  in  fairy  stories,  and  both  he  and  Keats 
were  possessed  of  keen  senses  of  humour.  Satire,  humour, 
and  fairies  —  what  a  piquant  combination!  Lord  Byron 
had  just  swept  the  reading  world  off  its  feet  with  the  auda- 
cities of  Don  Juan.  Why  should  not  Keats  dash  off  a  pot- 
boiler in  the  form  of  a  joke,  which  would  be  a  lark  to  write, 
and  might  —  just  might,  mind  you  —  tickle  the  public 
fancy,  and  put  some  convenient  guineas  into  Keats's 
empty  pockets  ?  How  much  of  this  he  told  Keats,  we  do 
not  know,  probably  not  all.  But  he  could  not  help  seeing 


ILLNESS  365 

that  Keats's  real  work  was  not  getting  on,  and  he  may  very 
well  have  urged  his  scheme  as  a  relief  and  antithesis.  Of 
the  circumstances  of  the  genesis  and  composition  of  the 
Cap  and  Bells,  Brown  wrote: 

1  "By  chance  our  conversation  turned  on  the  idea  of  a 
comic  faery  poem  in  the  Spenser  stanza,  and  I  was  glad  to 
encourage  it.  He  had  not  composed  many  stanzas  before 
he  proceeded  in  it  with  spirit.  It  was  to  be  published  under 
the  feigned  authorship  of  Lucy  Vaughan  Lloyd  and  to  bear 
the  title  of  the  Cap  and  Bells,  or,  which  he  preferred,  The 
Jealousies.  This  occupied  his  mornings  pleasantly.  He 
wrote  it  with  the  greatest  facility;  in  one  instance  I  re- 
member having  copied  (for  I  copied  as  he  wrote)  as  many 
as  twelve  stanzas  before  dinner." 

When  Lord  Hough  ton  printed  the  poem  in  1848,  he  ap- 
pended to  it  a  note  by  Brown  which  reads: 

"This  Poem  was  written  subject  to  future  amendments 
and  omissions:  it  was  begun  without  a  plan,  and  without 
any  prescribed  laws  for  the  supernatural  machinery." 

Here  was  Keats,  then,  during  the  first  weeks  of  Novem- 
ber, spending  his  mornings  with  Brown  in  the  sitting-room 
which  opened  on  the  garden,  writing  the  Cap  and  Bells 
easily  and  with  the  utmost  speed;  and  passing  his  evenings 
alone  in  his  own  study,  forcing  himself  to  the  revision  of 
the  Vision  of  Hyperion,  changing  certain  passages  culled 
out  of  Hyperion  with  little  dexterity,  putting  down  a  word, 
scratching  it  out,  trying  for  lines,  for  a  continuation  which 
would  not  come,  cudgelling  his  brains  for  a  subject  which 
should  free  him  from  his  paralysing  lassitude,  eternally 
obsessed  with  the  thought  of  his  apparently  hopeless  fu- 
ture where  marriage  was  concerned  —  doing  all  these 
things,  but  most  of  the  time  doing  nothing  but  suffer  — 

1  Quoted  from  The  Poems  of  John  Keats,  edited  by  E.  de  Selincourt. 
The  passage  also  appears  in  Sir  Sidney  Colvin's  short  Life  of  Keats.  English 
Men  of  Letters  Series. 


366  JOHN  KEATS 

suffer  —  suffer  —  at  the  terrible  inertia  he  could  neither 
shake  off  nor  rise  above. 

If  Keats  were  at  a  stand  in  his  serious  work,  the  Cap  and 
Bells,  on  the  other  hand,  flowed  with  remarkable  swiftness, 
and  at  first  he  seemed  to  get  a  great  deal  of  amusement 
from  it.  There  are  eighty-eight  stanzas  in  the  fragment  of 
the  Cap  and  Bells,  but  at  the  rate  at  which  Brown  reports 
Keats  as  writing  it,  that  would  represent  only  a  little  over 
a  week's  work.  But  the  Cap  and  Bells  was  as  powerless  to 
chain  his  wandering  attention  as  King  Stephen  had  been. 
He  did  not  definitely  abandon  it,  even  so  late  as  the  follow- 
ing August  he  seems  to  have  had  hopes  of  going  on  with  it; 
but,  the  first  rush  of  enthusiasm  over,  he  began  to  weary 
and  question,  and  wonder  whether  he  had  not  better  fish 
round  for  another  large  subject  which  would  stimulate  his 
serious  imagination.  On  Wednesday,  November  seven- 
teenth, he  wrote  to  Taylor  of  a  new  theme  which  he 
thought  might  do.  He  says: 

"I  have  come  to  a  determination  not  to  publish  any- 
thing I  have  now  ready  written ;  but  for  all  that  to  publish 
a  Poem  before  long  and  that  I  hope  to  make  a  fine  one.  As 
the  marvellous  is  the  most  enticing  and  the  surest  guaran- 
tee of  harmonious  numbers  I  have  been  endeavouring  to 
persuade  myself  to  untether  Fancy  and  to  let  her  manage 
for  herself.  I  and  myself  cannot  agree  about  this  at  all. 
Wonders  are  no  wonders  to  me.  I  am  more  at  home 
amongst  Men  and  women.  I  would  rather  read  Chaucer 
than  Ariosto.  The  little  dramatic  skill  I  may  as  yet  have 
however  badly  it  might  show  in  a  Drama  would  I  think 
be  sufficient  for  a  Poem.  I  wish  to  diffuse  the  colouring  of 
St.  Agnes  eve  throughout  a  poem  in  which  Character  and 
Sentiment  would  be  the  figures  to  such  drapery.  Two  or 
three  such  Poems,  if  God  should  spare  me,  written  in  the 
course  of  the  next  six  years,  would  be  a  famous  gradus  ad 
Parnassum  altissimum.  I  mean  they  would  nerve  me  up 
to  the  writing  of  a  few  fine  Plays  —  my  greatest  ambition 
—  when  I  do  feel  ambitious.  I  am  sorry  to  say  that  is  very 
seldom.  The  subject  we  have  once  or  twice  talked  of  ap- 


ILLNESS  367 

pears  a  promising  one,  the  Earl  of  Leicester's  history.  I 
am  this  morning  reading  Holingshed's  Elizabeth.  You  had 
some  Books  awhile  ago,  you  promised  to  lend  me,  illustra- 
tive of  my  subject.  If  you  can  lay  hold  of  them  or  any 
others  which  may  be  serviceable  to  me  I  know  you  will 
encourage  my  low-spirited  muse  by  sending  them  —  or 
rather  by  letting  me  know  when  our  Errand  cart  Man  shall 
call  with  my  little  Box.  I  will  endeavour  to  set  my  self 
selfishly  at  work  on  this  Poem  that  is  to  be.11 

But  he  could  not  set  himself  to  work  on  any  such  large 
undertaking.  He  was  undoubtedly  right  in  thinking  his 
dramatic  skill  insufficient  for  a  play,  and  wisely  critical  in 
believing  that  a  dramatic  poem  might  be  within  his  com- 
pass, and  yet,  when  one  considers  along  what  line,  or  lines, 
Keats's  creative  faculty  most  naturally  and  happily  moved, 
one  is  inclined  to  doubt  even  that.  One  cannot  but  fail  to 
see  that  the  tether  of  history  would  have  been  a  severe 
handicap  to  an  imagination  such  as  his.  It  is  no  matter 
either  way,  for  Keats  did  nothing  with  the  Earl  of  Lei- 
cester's history.  No  least  scrap  of  any  such  poem  has 
ever  come  to  light.  Keats  had  no  longer  the  vitality  to 
do  more  than  work  over  poems  already  written,  or  pos- 
sibly, from  time  to  time,  add  a  stanza  or  two  to  the  Cap 
and  Bells. 

Keats  lovers  hitherto  have  been  of  one  mind  in  their 
condemnation  of  the  Cap  and  Bells.  To  Rossetti,  it  was 
"  the  to  me  hateful  Cap  and  Bells."1  Buxton  Forman  con- 
sidered it " entirely  unworthy  of  Keats "  and  "a  mere  intel- 
lectual and  mechanical  exercise."  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  thinks 
that  for  Keats  such  a  subject  was  "essentially  against  the 
grain,"  and  Professor  de  Selincourt  points  out  "how  un- 
suitable the  subject  and  treatment  are  to  the  essential 
character  of  his  own  genius."  But  are  they?  It  seems  to 
me  that  these  devoted  gentlemen  are  all  determined  to  ig- 
nore one  side  of  their  idol.  Immensely  delighting  in  Keats's 

1  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 


368  JOHN  KEATS 

lyric  gift,  they  turn  their  eyes  resolutely  away  from  that 
other  part  of  him  which  revelled  in  Burton's  Anatomy  of 
Melancholy,  enjoyed  the  broad  satire  of  Guzman  d'Alfar- 
ache,  and  copied  Brown's  decidedly  coarse  tales  at  great 
length  in  his  letters  to  George  and  Rice.  Satire  is  seldom 
an  attribute  of  youth,  and  that  Keats  was  only  on  the 
threshold  of  this  corner  of  his  poetic  domain,  is  true.  But 
that  he  would  have  penetrated  farther  in  this  direction 
had  he  lived,  it  is  impossible  to  doubt.  Even  Sir  Sidney 
Colvin,  on  the  last  page  of  his  Life  of  Keats,  suggests  this 
important  query  —  his  paragraph  in  full  reads: 

"  Again,  along  with  his  admirable  capacity  for  loyal  de- 
votion and  sympathy  in  friendship,  we  find  in  him  ca- 
pacities of  quite  another  kind,  capacities  for  disillusion- 
ment and  for  seeing  through  and  chafing  at  human  and 
social  shams  and  pretensions  and  absurdities;  and  we  ask 
ourselves,  would  this  strain  in  him,  which  we  find  expressed 
with  a  degree  of  pettish  and  premature  cynicism,  for 
instance  in  the  Cap  and  Bells  and  in  some  of  his  later  letters, 
have  matured  in  time  into  a  power  either  of  virile  satire  or 
genial  reconciling  comedy?7' 

Against  the  chorus  of  disapproval  which  his  immediate 
descendants  have  fairly  shouted  over  the  Cap  and  Bells,  it 
is  strange  to  find  a  sympathetic  word  accorded  to  the  poem 
from  his  contemporary,  Lord  Jeffrey,  who,  in  a  letter  to 
Lord  Houghton,  after  the  publication  of  the  latter's  col- 
lected edition  in  1848,  wrote  of  the  "strange  outbursts  of 
individual  fancy  and  felicitous  expressions  in  the  'Cap  and 
Bells'  though  the  general  extravagance  of  the  poetry  is 
more  suited  to  an  Italian  than  to  an  English  taste."1 

Recent  criticism  has  turned  more  favourable  eyes  on  the 
Cap  and  Bells.  We  now  see  the  poem  as  another  of  Keats's 
many  experiments,  and  a  very  interesting  one;  and  we 
recognize  in  it  not  only  the  rudiments  of  political  and  social 

1  Quoted  by  Buxton  Forman.  Complete  Edition. 


ILLNESS  369 

satire,  but  an  arrow  pointing  to  Keats's  multifarious  read- 
ing along  many  lines,  some  of  which  we  knew  of,  but  some 
of  which  may  very  possibly  have  been  overlooked. 

Keats  undoubtedly  took  the  main  incident  of  his  tale 
from  the  fairy  episode  in  the  Midsummer  Night's  Dream. 
Sir  Sidney  Colvin  couples  this  with  Southey's  translation 
of  Wieland's  Oberon,  which  is  very  likely  true,  although  we 
have  no  knowledge  of  Keats's  having  read  that  work.  Be- 
sides these  two  sources,  there  was  another  ready  to  Keats's 
hand  in  the  current  gossip  of  the  day,  and  the  newspapers, 
both  daily  and  weekly.  England  was  just  at  this  time  buzz- 
ing with  the  quarrel  between  the  Prince  Regent  and  his 
wife,  the  unfortunate,  and  self-banished,  Princess  of 
Wales,  in  a  few  months  to  be  the  returned,  but  uncrowned, 
Queen  Caroline. 

Had  one  unlimited  space  and  all  the  time  in  the  world  at 
one's  disposal,  it  would  be  amusing  to  trace  Keats's  vari- 
ous indebtednesses  throughout  the  Cap  and  Bells>  which 
has  never  been  thoroughly  done.  As  it  is,  we  can  merely 
glance  at  a  few  examples.  Keats  took  the  Spenserian 
stanza  precisely  because  of  its  unsuitability  for  comic 
verse.  This  audacious  act  has  called  down  upon  him  a 
whole  hurricane  of  sighs  from  generations  of  shocked 
classicists;  yet  that  he  managed  his  intractable  medium 
with  much  skill,  cannot  be  denied  by  any  one  who  has  read 
the  poem  with  an  unprejudiced  mind.  But  his  stanza  was 
not  the  only  thing  which  Keats  got  from  Spenser;  he  filched 
his  fairy  king  directly  from  the  Tenth  Book  of  the  Second 
Canto  of  the  Faery  Queene^  where  Spenser  gives  a  geneal- 
ogy of  the  fairy  sovereigns,  one  of  whom  is  "  noble  Elfinan." 
From  Spenser  too,  Keats  received  the  idea  of  placing  his 
fairy  realm  in  India,  and  calling  its  capital  city  Panthea. 
But  Keats's  Panthea  hovers  in  the  air,  which  Spenser's 
does  not;  for  this  attribute  of  the  fairy  Emperor's  capital, 
Keats  went  to  Drayton,1  who,  in  the  Nymphidea  tells  of 

1  Shakespeare  and  Keats,  by  Claude  L.  Finaey. 


370  JOHN  KEATS 

the  palace  of  "that  proud  Fairy  King,  Oberon,"  which, 
he  says 

"...  standeth  in  the  air, 
By  necromancy  placed  there, 
That  it  no  tempests  needs  to  fear 
Which  way  soe'er  it  blow  it. 

When  we  come  to  the  publisher  Parpaglion  and  the 
alchemist  and  soothsayer  Hum,  we  find  Keats  borrowing 
from  various  of  Ben  Jonson's  plays.  Not  only  is  the  curi- 
ous name  Hum  found  in  the  Alchemist,  where  it  is  used 
as  a  cabalistic  word  by  Subtle  in  an  injunction  to  Dapper: 

". . .  cry  hum 
Thrise," 

but  Keats  seems  to  have  taken  his  "Scarab  Street"  from 
the  same  source,  for  Subtle  calls  Face  "Scarabe,"  as  a 
term  of  opprobrium.  Miss  Yvonne  Dusser,  who  wrote  a 
most  interesting  letter  to  the  Times  Literary  Supplement, 
some  years  ago,  from  which  I  have  taken  this  detail, 
quotes  from  Greene's  Planetomachia  the  following  perti- 
nent sentence:  "the  baze  minds  of  such  as  with  the  Scarab 
Flye,  delighteth  only  to  live  in  dung  and  mire,"  to  which 
Miss  Dusser  adds:  "Scarab  Street  thus  seems  a  fit  dwell- 
ing place  for  the  publisher  Parpaglion,  a  scandal-monger." 
Miss  Dusser  also  notes  that  Ben  Jonson  "uses  the  word 
'hum'  to  satirize  the  talk  of  the  puritans,"  and,  consider- 
ing that  Keats's  Hum  aids  and  abets  the  Fairy  Elfinan  in 
his  illicit  love  affair  with  a  mortal,  the  derivation  seems 
obvious. 

It  is  also  likely  that  Keats  invented  Crafticant's  name 
with  Jonson's  Dame  Purecraft  from  Bartholomew  Fair  in 
mind,  and  much  of  the  alchemistical  lore  hinted  at  when 
the  page,  Eban,  goes  to  Hum's  house,  points  to  the  Al- 
chemist and  very  probably  also  to  Chaucer  in  the  Chanones 
Yemannes  Tale.  Besides  these  sources,  there  is  a  chance 


ILLNESS  371 

that  Keats  had  happened  across  some  old  volumes  of  al- 
chemy and  astrology.  For  references  to  the  latter  science, 
he  had  not  only  the  poets,  but  Moore's  Almanack,  which 
is  mentioned  in  the  poem. 

Being  somewhat  interested  in  the  possible  sources  of 
Keats's  alchemical  terms,  apart  from  their  literary  deriva- 
tions, I  asked  my  friend  Mr.  S.  Foster  Damon,1  who  has 
made  a  study  of  these  things,  to  note  them  for  me.  His 
answer  to  my  request  gave  the  following: 

"Hum,  one  presumes,  is  an  alchemist  on  account  of  his 
'furnace-scorched  brow'  (Stanza  LVII);  but  what  al- 
chemical terms  he  uses  are  more  easily  explained  other- 
wise, and  are  so  generally  in  use  that  it  would  be  impossible 
to  trace  them  to  any  definite  source. 

Aqua  vita  (Stanza  XXXHI)  is  a  common  alchemical 
term,  meaning  (i)  the  First  Matter  or  (2)  the  Medicine 
prepared  from  the  First  Matter;  but  from  the  i6th  century 
on  it  had  been  commonly  applied  to  any  form  of  ardent 
spirits  prepared  for  drink. 

Nitre  (Stanza  XXXIII)  is  another  word  for  salt-peter, 
common  in  alchemy,  equally  common  in  medicine. 

Venus  (Stanza  XXXIV)  means  copper  in  alchemy,  but 
is  here  used  astrologically. 

Mercury  (Stanza  LXIX)  means  quick-silver  in  alchemy, 
but  is  here  used  astrologically  as  the  Protecting  Influence 
over  Thieves  (this  idea  goes  back  to  Greek  mythology). 

These  are  all  the  terms  which  could  possibly  be  inter- 
preted alchemically;  but  Keats  probably  used  them  quite 
otherwise. 

There  are  several  other  astrological  terms:  "cast  a  quiet 
figure"  (Stanza  XXXII)  means  to  draw  up  a  (quiet) 
horoscope.  The  chalk  (Stanza  XXXIII)  was  for  this 
purpose.  Stars  and  Zodiac  (Stanza  XXXIIl)  are  astro- 
logical. Other  occult  terms  are  gathered  haphazard. 

Zendervester  is  the  Zend  Avesta  (Stanza  II). 

Grains  of  Paradise  (Stanza  XXXIIl)  were  cardamon 
seeds,  used  in  medicine  as  spice  —  mentioned  by  Chaucer 
and  everyone  after  him. 
1  Author  of  William  Blake:  His  Philosophy  and  Symbols.  1924. 


372  JOHN  KEATS 

Don't  tell  me  what  you  want  (Stanza  XXXVI)  —  a 
common  trick  of  ancient  magicians  and  modern  seers. 
Vulgarly  considered  a  test  of  supernatural  powers  when 
they  can  tell  themselves.  See  in  the  Bible,  the  second 
chapter  of  the  Book  of  Daniel,  where  Nebuchadnezzar 
planned  to  execute  all  the  seers  because  they  could  not  tell 
him  the  dream  he  had  forgotten. 

I  do  not  know  what  coming  down  stairs  backwards  in 
one  shoe  means  (Stanza  XXXIV)  —  it  sounds  like  a 
charlatan's  trick.  (Note  reference  to  Mother  Goose: 
'Diddle-diddle  dumpling1.)" 

Yes,  Keats  went  merrily  to  Mother  Goose;  and  to  hints 
of  folk  medical  practices,  in  his  "dentes  sapientia  of  mice." 
Another  interesting  letter  to  the  Times1  goes  at  length  into 
the  prevalence  of  the  use  of  mice  as  medical  ingredients. 
The  author,  Mr.  Donald  A.  Mackenzie,2  says  very  perti- 
nently: "It  may  be  that  the  poet  heard  something,  dur- 
ing his  wanderings,  about  the  Highland  mouse  cures  .  .  . 
He  may  have  heard  that  the  teeth  of  mice  were  worn  as 
charms  ...  As  mouse  cures  were  as  prevalent  in  England 
as  in  Scotland,  it  is  possible,  of  course,  that  Keats  may 
have  heard  of  them  from  some  rural  patient  in  a  London 
Hospital."  Various  parts  of  mice  were  used  in  these  cures; 
but  the  importance  of  that  rodent's  "wisdom  teeth" 
seems  to  have  been  Keats's  own  happy  invention. 

For  the  political  references  in  the  Cap  and  Bells,  Buxton 
Forman  gives  a  few  illustrations.  He  identifies  the  "square- 
cut  chancellor"  with  Mr.  Vansittart,  and  the  "  tiptoe  mar- 
quis" with  the  Marquis  of  Lansdowne;  but  the  most 
amusing  of  his  discoveries  is  that  which  refers  to  "Esquire 
Biancopany."  Keats's  wit  was  delightfully  employed  in 
inventing  his  name,  for  Buxton  Forman  splits  it  into 
"  Bianco  —  white,  pane  —  bread,"  and  proves  beyond  the 
shadow  of  a  doubt  that  he  is  Mr.  Whitbread,  a  violent  rad- 


1  Times  Literary  Supplement,  February  14,  1918. 
1  Author  of  Myths  of  Crete  and  Pre-Hellenic  Europe. 


ILLNESS  373 

ical,  and  an  ardent  adherent  of  the  maligned  Princess  of 
Wales. 

The  Cap  and  Bells  is  not  so  sparkling  a  skit  as  it  ought 
to  have  been,  and  would  have  been  had  Keats  been  his 
normal  self  when  he  wrote  it.  Still,  it  is  far  from  dull  read- 
ing; the  night  flight,  recorded  in  Crafticant's  diary,  is  ex- 
tremely ingenious,  while  the  description  of  the  black 
slave,  Eban,  admiring  himself  and  his  gorgeous  clothes  re- 
flected in  the  "pearl-pav'd  street"  is  quite  irresistible. 
Keats  is  even  witty  at  his  own  expense.  The  poet  who  can 
make  fun  of  his  own  work  is  a  very  great  poet  indeed,  and 
one  blessed  with  an  infinite  sense  of  humour.  Such  a  poet 
also  knows  that  his  serious  work  is  unassailable.  It  im- 
plies no  doubt  of  his  Eve  of  St.  Mark  that  he  here  treats  it 
to  a  little  gentle  fooling  by  making  Elfinan  in  love  with  a 
certain  Bertha  Pearl  who  lives  in  Canterbury.  Among 
other  sly  digs  at  his  real  poem,  Hum  gives  the  Emperor  a 
"legend-laden"  book  to  take  to  Bertha,  the  sight  of  which 
is  guaranteed  to  send  her  into  a  fainting  fit  at  once. 

Viewed  with  unbiased  eyes,  the  Cap  and  Bells  is  often 
clever  and  occasionally  brilliant;  but  the  most  remarkable 
thing  about  it  is  that  Keats,  suffering  and  miserable  as  he 
was,  could  have  written  it  at  all,  could  have  written  any- 
thing in  such  a  vein,  and  yet  it  was  just  this  vein  which 
kept  him  going.  It  turned  his  mind  to  merry  things  and 
kept  it  there  during  the  hours  of  composition.  But  the 
time  came,  and,  as  we  have  seen,  in  a  very  few  days,  when 
he  could  no  longer  make  the  effort  to  free  himself  from 
himself.  Every  unproductive  day  showed  him  more  plainly 
the  coil  which  was  weaving  round  him.  He  could  not  hope 
to  marry  without  money,  he  could  not  get  money  unless  he 
worked,  and  he  could  not  work.  I  think,  too,  there  is 
ample  evidence  to  prove  that  Keats  was  beginning  to  fear 
that  he  was  the  victim  of  disease.  His  mother  and  Tom 
had  both  died  of  tuberculosis,  and  it  would  have  been 
strange  if  the  thought  that  he  too  might  go  the  same  way 


374  JOHN  KEATS 

had  not  entered  his  head.  But  I  do  not  think  that  at  this 
time  it  had.  I  believe  rather  that  he  was  not  sure  what  he 
had.  The  doctors,  when  he  consulted  them  about  his  throat 
as  he  was  frequently  forced  to  do,  made  no  such  suggestion, 
and  he  could  hardly,  with  his  inexperience  of  actual  prac- 
tice, believe  them  totally  wrong.  Yet  the  thought  of  death 
hung  constantly  over  him.  A  man  in  health  does  not  say 
to  his  publisher  that  he  will  do  thus  and  thus,  if  God  should 
spare  him.  As  the  days  went  on,  he  sank  lower  and  lower 
into  gloom  and  dreary  forebodings.  But,  since  George's 
departure  and  Tom's  death,  he  had  lost  the  habit  of  easing 
himself  of  his  griefs  by  talking  about  them.  He  could  not 
speak,  even  to  Brown;  and  Fanny  Brawne  was  the  last 
person  to  whom  he  could  tell  his  fears  in  such  a  case,  nat- 
urally. 

Brown  has  left  an  account  of  these  miserable  days  as 
they  appeared  to  him.  He  speaks  of  Keats's  inability  to 
work,  of  his  penniless  condition,  of  the  blighting  of  all  his 
hopes.  Brown  did  his  best  to  comfort,  but  what  could  he 
really  do  except  lend  his  friend  money,  which  he  had  done 
and  continued  doing  at  intervals.  Here  is  a  part  of  what 
he  wrote  concerning  this  time: 

X"A11  that  a  friend  could  say,  or  offer,  or  urge  was  not 
enough  to  heal  his  many  wounds.  He  listened,  and,  in 
kindness,  or  soothed  by  kindness,  showed  tranquility,  but 
nothing  from  a  friend  could  relieve  him,  except  on  a  matter 
of  inferior  trouble.  He  was  too  thoughtful  or  too  unquiet; 
and  he  began  to  be  reckless  of  health.  Among  other  proofs  of 
recklessness,  he  was  secretly  taking,  at  times,  a  few  drops 
of  laudanum  to  keep  up  his  spirits.  It  was  discovered  by 
accident,  and  without  delay  revealed  to  me.  He  needed 
not  to  be  warned  of  the  danger  of  such  a  habit;  but  I  re- 
joiced at  his  promise  never  to  take  another  drop  without 
my  knowledge;  for  nothing  could  induce  him  to  break  his 
word  when  once  given,  —  which  was  a  difficulty.  Still,  at 
the  very  moment  of  my  being  rejoiced,  this  was  an  addi- 
tional proof  of  his  rooted  misery.11 

1  Quoted  in  Sir  Sidney  Colvin's  Life  of  Keats. 


ILLNESS  375 

It  was  doubtless  of  this  period  that  Haydon  was  speak- 
ing when  he  told  his  obvious  lie  —  a  lie  sprung  from  his 
immoral  and  incurable  habit  of  exaggeration  —  of  Keats's 
flying  to  dissipation  as  a  relief.  "For  six  weeks,"  says 
Haydon,  "he  was  scarcely  sober";  an  absolute  untruth,  as 
we  have  Brown's  testimony  to  prove.  Such  a  thing,  had  it 
been  true,  could  not  have  been  kept  from  Mrs.  Brawne  and 
Fanny,  in  the  close  intimacy  in  which  the  two  households 
lived.  And  is  it  likely  that  Mrs.  Brawne  would  have  per- 
mitted, or  Fanny  desired,  the  engagement  to  continue 
under  such  circumstances?  A  man  can  hide  the  fact  that 
he  is  taking  mild  doses  of  laudanum;  but  a  drunken  man 
under  one's  roof,  even  with  the  precaution  of  separate 
front  doors,  is  something  which  very  soon  proclaims  itself. 

The  worst  torture  of  Keats's  condition  was  his  growing 
jealousy  of  Fanny  Brawne.  One  of  the  secondary  symp- 
toms of  tuberculosis  is  a  tendency  to  suspicion;  and  Keats 
had  always  been  of  a  suspicious  nature.  Now  he  had  no 
sensible  George,  no  understanding  Tom,  to  reason  him  out 
of  his  false  impressions.  He  was  not  yet  so  ill  that  he  could 
not  keep  himself  from  blaming  Fanny  Brawne  to  Brown. 
He  suffered  alone  and  in  silence,  but  he  suffered  with  a  fear- 
ful intensity.  Two  poems  appear  to  belong  to  this  period 
—  must,  indeed,  belong  to  it,  for  he  does  not  seem  to  have 
written  any  poems  after  his  first  haemorrhage.  Both  these 
poems  tell  the  same  story. 

The  first,  known  as  Lines  to  Fanny,  if  we  may  take  Lord 
Houghton's  date,  "October,  1819,"  as  correct,  must  have 
been  written  shortly  after  his  return  to  Hampstead.  Bux- 
ton  Forman  attributes  it  to  the  College  Street  week,  be- 
cause in  Keats's  letter  from  there  to  Miss  Brawne,  written 
on  October  thirteenth,  he  tells  her  that  he  has  just  been 
copying  some  verses  out  fair.  But  this  I  am  sure  is  a  mis- 
take. The  letter  is  written  in  no  such  disconsolate  mood  as 
the  poem,  and  in  the  poem  Keats  says  that  he  has  seen 
Miss  Brawne  only  an  hour  before,  which  he  certainly  had 
not  done  on  October  thirteenth,  nor  even  on  the  twelfth, 


376  JOHN  KEATS 

nor  the  eleventh,  and  it  could  not  have  been  written  on  the 
tenth,  when  he  wrote  The  day  is  gone,  for  the  mood  of  the 
Lines  is  utterly  at  variance  with  the  mood  of  the  sonnet, 
and  that  the  latter  mood  held,  the  letter  of  the  eleventh 
proves.  Yet  the  Lines  must  have  been  written  quite  soon 
after  he  came  back  to  Wentworth  Place,  for,  although 
there  is  dejection  in  them,  there  is  no  bitterness. 

Quite  unlike  the  Lines,  is  the  terrible  sonnet  To  Fanny, 
which  begins: 

"  I  cry  your  mercy  —  pity  —  love!  aye,  love! 
Merciful  love  that  tantalizes  not." 

This  sonnet  is  all  bitterness,  and  longing,  agonizing,  fevered 
love.  He  cries  to  Fanny: 

"Yourself  —  your  soul  —  in  pity  give  me  all, 

Withhold  no  atom's  atom  or  I  die, 
Or  living  on  perhaps,  your  wretched  thrall, 

Forget,  in  the  mist  of  idle  misery, 
Life's  purposes,  —  the  palate  of  my  mind 
Losing  its  gust,  and  my  ambition  blind!" 

The  last  two  lines  here  seem  to  date  the  sonnet  as  having 
been  written  in  mid-November. 

A  fragment  of  seven  and  a  half  lines  is  jotted  down  on 
one  of  the  pages  of  the  Cap  and  Bells.1  It  is  one  of  the  bit- 
terest of  all  Keats's  personal  expressions.  Here  is  the  con- 
stant, haunting  thought  of  death,  here  is  the  profound  dis- 
trust of  Fanny  Brawne,  and  here  is  something  worse  than 
either  —  the  tortured  man  imagining,  and  almost  glad  to 
imagine,  an  anguish  of  remorse  for  the  woman  he  loves. 
To  appreciate  Keats's  agony,  one  must  know  these  lines: 

"This  living  hand,  now  warm  and  capable 
Of  earnest  grasping,  would,  if  it  were  cold 
And  in  the  icy  silence  of  the  tomb, 
So  haunt  thy  days  and  chill  thy  dreaming  nights 

1  The  poem  is  written  upside  down  on  the  page  which  contains  Stanza 
Li.  As  the  sheet  is  octavo,  there  is  no  room  for  more  writing  on  the  page. 


ILLNESS  377 

That  thou  would [st]  wish  thine  own  heart  dry  of  blood 
So  in  my  veins  red  life  might  stream  again, 
And  thou  be  conscience-calm  'd  —  see  here  it  is — 
I  hold  it  toward  you." 

A  tentative  suggestion  made  by  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  is  that 
these  lines  may  have  been  a  fragment  of  the  projected 
drama  on  the  Earl  of  Leicester,  but  considering  what  we 
know  of  Keats's  state  of  mind  at  this  time,  the  idea  is,  I 
think,  quite  untenable.1 

Sir  Sidney  Colvin  thinks  that  it  did  not  occur  to  Keats  as 
possible  that  "at  the  present  ebb-tide  of  his  fortunes,"  he 
"might  win  peace  by  marriage  with  the  object  of  his  pas- 
sion." I  think  nothing  else  occurred  to  him  day  and  night. 
The  fact  that  the  Brawne  family  had  enough  to  live  on 
comfortably,  leads  Sir  Sidney  to  remark  of  Fanny:  "What 
his  instincts  of  honour  and  independence  forbade  him  to 
ask,  hers  of  tenderness  could  perhaps  hardly  be  expected 
to  offer."  But  it  was  Mrs.  Brawne's  money,  not  Fanny's; 
and  is  it  to  be  supposed  that  any  sensible  mother  (unless, 
indeed,  she  were  supersensible  and  possessed  of  the  pro- 
phesying powers  of  a  Sibyl)  would  have  suggested,  or  per- 
mitted her  daughter  to  suggest,  such  a  mad  thing?  They 
could  not  know  that  John  Keats,  living  next  door,  was  one 
of  the  greatest  of  English  poets.  What  they  saw  was  a 
penniless  young  man,  in  a  very  indifferent  state  of  health. 
Fanny  was  only  nineteen  and  Keats  hardly  twenty-four, 
and  Mrs.  Brawne  cannot  but  have  thought  that  there  was 
plenty  of  time  to  think  of  marriage  in  a  few  years,  the  mo- 
ment was  most  unpropitious,  the  young  couple  would  be 
in  a  better  position  later  on,  in  all  probability.  Also,  Fanny 
lived  in  an  age  when  well-brought-up  daughters  in  her 
class  of  life  did  not  jump  over  the  traces  and  marry  off- 
hand; and  suppose  Fanny  had  happened  to  do  this,  neither 

1  Since  the  above  was  put  in  type,  I  have  seen  the  holograph  manuscript 
of  this  page  of  the  Cap  and  Bells,  which  proves  conclusively  that  the  lines 
were  written  before  Keats  had  composed  Stanza  LII. 


378  JOHN  KEATS 

she  nor  Keats  had  the  money  to  run  away,  and  was  it  to  be 
contemplated  that  Fanny  should  move  next  door  and  let 
Brown  support  the  pair  of  them!  The  idea  is  absurd. 
Fanny  was  not  Harriet  Westbrook,  and  Keats  was  no  Shel- 
ley. They  each  did  the  best  they  could,  as  I  think  any  one 
not  hoodwinked  by  an  unreasoning  love  for  Keats  can  see. 
Notwithstanding  his  misery,  Keats  made  a  brave  at- 
tempt to  keep  up  in  the  face  of  the  world,  his  world  of 
friends  and  acquaintances  who  did  not  see  him  so  con- 
stantly as  to  suspect  his  condition.  Sir  Sidney  Colvin  en- 
tirely misreads  a  letter  to  Severn,  written  on  Monday 
morning,  December  sixth.  In  this  letter,  Keats  tells 
Severn  that  he  is  coming  round  soon  to  see  his  picture,  the 
Cave  of  Despair,  and  at  the  end,  with  a  touch  of  his  old 
humour  which  did  not  quite  desert  him  when  speaking  to 
outsiders  until  the  very  end,  he  asks  Severn  to  come  with 
him  to  see  a  poem  which  he  has  hung  up  in  the  Lecture 
Room  of  the  Surrey  Institution  in  competition  for  a  prize, 
and  adds: 

"I  have  many  Rivals  —  the  most  threatening  are  An 
Ode  to  Lord  Castlereagh,  and  a  new  series  of  Hymns  for 
the  New,  new  Jerusalem  Chapel.  You  had  best  put  me 
into  your  Cave  of  despair." 

Keats's  postulate  does  not  refer  to  his  real  state  of  mind,  as 
Sir  Sidney  supposes,  he  is  merely  carrying  on  the  joke  of 
the  prize  poem  with  a  mock  fear  at  such  formidable  rivals. 
I  make  this  point  simply  to  show  that  he  was  not  in  the 
habit  of  making  a  confidant  of  Severn. 

While  Keats's  inner  life  was  undergoing  such  throes, 
while  to  himself  he  was  engulfed  in  a  passionate  tragedy, 
his  outward  life  was  calm  enough.  Brown  had  finished  his 
fair  transcript  of  Otho  the  Great,  and  taken  it  to  Elliston,  the 
manager  of  Drury  Lane,  and  Elliston  had  accepted  it  with 
a  proviso:  he  could  not  bring  it  out  until  the  following 
season.  This  was  very  disagreeable  news  for  Keats  and 
Brown,  particularly  as  Kean  had  postponed  his  journey  to 


ILLNESS  379 

America  until  the  next  year.  There  was  some  delay  in  the 
final  decision,  and  during  that  time  the  young  men  nerved 
themselves  to  deliver  an  ultimatum.  The  tragedy  must  be 
brought  out  that  season  or  they  would  offer  it  to  Covent 
Garden,  in  the  hope  that  Macready  would  take  the  chief 
part.  In  spite  of  Keats's  great  preference  for  Kean,  he 
wrote  to  Rice  that  "'Twould  do  one's  heart  good  to  see 
Macready  in  Ludolph."  Having  arrived  at  this  opinion, 
Keats  at  once  set  about  improving  the  play.  On  Monday, 
December  twentieth,  he  wrote  to  his  sister  that  he  had 
been  very  busy  and  should  be  for  some  time  "preparing 
some  Poems  to  come  out  in  the  Spring,  and  also  in  bright- 
ening the  interest  of  our  Tragedy."  But  Elliston  was  ada- 
mant, the  young  men  took  back  their  play,  and  there  all 
knowledge  of  it  ceases.  Probably  Covent  Garden  refused 
it,  for,  as  I  have  already  mentioned,  it  was  never  produced. 

From  this  letter  to  Fanny,  it  is  evident  that  Keats's  de- 
termination not  to  publish  any  of  the  poems  he  had  on 
hand,  expressed  in  his  letter  to  Taylor  of  November 
seventeenth,  had  been  over-ruled,  and  a  new  volume  de- 
cided upon.  If  Keats  did  any  work  during  January,  it  was 
probably  confined  to  a  revision  of  his  old  poems. 

Keats  tells  his  sister  an  amusing  little  anecdote  in  this 
letter  which  must  be  given  in  his  own  words: 

"  My  hopes  of  success  in  the  literary  world  are  now  better 
than  ever.  Mr.  Abbey,  on  my  calling  on  him  lately,  ap- 
peared anxious  I  should  apply  myself  to  something  else  — 
He  mentioned  Tea  Brokerage.  I  supposed  he  might  per- 
haps mean  to  give  me  the  Brokerage  of  his  concern  which 
might  be  executed  with  little  trouble  and  a  good  profit;  and 
therefore  said  I  should  have  no  objection  to  it,  especially 
as  at  the  same  time  it  occurred  to  me  that  I  might  make 
over  the  business  to  George  —  I  questioned  him  about  it 
a  few  days  after.  His  mind  takes  odd  turns.  When  I  be- 
came a  Suitor  he  became  coy.  He  did  not  seem  so  much 
inclined  to  serve  me.  He  described  what  I  should  have  to 
do  in  the  progress  of  business.  It  will  not  suit  me.  I  have 
given  it  up." 


380  JOHN  KEATS 

What  Abbey  probably  had  in  mind  was  that  Keats 
should  become  a  travelling  salesman  for  the  London  trade, 
what  was,  and  probably  still  is,  called  in  England,  a  "  town 
traveller."  The  picture  of  Keats  driving  up  and  down 
London  and  the  near-by  suburbs  in  a  gig,  purveying  sam- 
ples of  tea,  is  a  strange  one,  as  Abbey  doubtless  realized 
when  he  came  to  think  it  over.  And  yet  I  think  it  was,  in 
some  sort,  a  moral  lack  in  Keats  that  he,  up  to  his  eyes  in 
debt,  did  not  at  least  try  what  he  could  do  with  the  job. 
His  health  is  his  only  excuse,  and  we  may  make  it  for  him; 
it  was  enough.  Still,  it  must  be  admitted  that,  as  regards 
his  finances,  Keats's  sense  of  honour  and  justice  was  too 
often  in  abeyance.  He  disliked  obligation,  but  consented 
to  it  rather  than  alter  his  mode  of  life  a  tittle. 

By  the  middle  of  December,  Keats's  throat  was  again 
giving  trouble,  and  following  his  doctor's  advice  he  had  "  a 
warm  great  coat"  made  and  provided  himself  with  thick 
shoes.  Useless  precautions!  The  throat  which,  he  says, 
"on  exertion  or  cold  continually  threatens  me"  got  no 
better. 

Christmas  came  and  went.  Keats  dined  on  Christmas 
Day  with  the  Dilkes,  in  company,  we  may  presume,  with 
the  Brawnes.  Suddenly,  early  in  January,  George  appeared 
in  London.  Whether  or  not  he  had  heralded  his  coming  by 
a  letter  to  Keats  or  Mrs.  Wylie,  no  one  says,  but  it  seems 
likely  that  he  had,  for  Mrs.  Wylie  had  had  a  letter  from 
him  in  the  middle  of  December.  Heralded  or  not,  here  he 
was.  George  had  got  heartily  sick  of  waiting  for  Abbey  to 
forward  to  him  the  money  promised.  Keats  had  sent  him 
one  hundred  pounds,  drawn  from  Tom's  undivided  estate, 
but  what  George  desired  was  to  have  the  estate  divided 
and  obtain  his  share  of  it  at  once.  The  one  hundred  pounds 
sent  by  John  was  but  a  drop  in  the  bucket  of  George's  ex- 
pectations and  he  had  come  to  the  conclusion  that,  if  he 
were  to  get  what  he  wanted,  he  must  cross  the  ocean  and 
fetch  it  himself. 


ILLNESS  381 

The  financial  situation  of  the  Keats  children,  if  we  can 
put  implicit  faith  in  George's  statement  of  it  made  to  Dilke 
in  I824,1  was  somewhat  as  follows  (I  say  somewhat,  be- 
cause George  himself  was  not  certain  of  the  earlier  sums. 
He  qualifies  his  figures  by  saying  "presuming"  them  to  be 
so  and  so,  "probably"  I  had  such  and  such,  "I  do  not  re- 
member" the  amount,  "suppose"  it  to  have  been  this  or 
that.  A  most  unsatisfactory  kind  of  accounting) :  On  Mrs. 
Jennings's  death,  the  children  had  each  a  capital  of  fifteen 
hundred  pounds,  of  which  Abbey  was  the  trustee.  This 
seems  to  have  included  the  sum  received  by  Mrs.  Jennings 
from  her  husband,  and  the  sum  bequeathed  to  Mrs.  Raw- 
lings  with  reversion  to  her  children.2  The  thousand  pounds 
each,  directly  bequeathed  to  his  grandchildren  by  Mr. 
Jennings,  is  omitted  from  the  calculation,  as  it  could  not 
be  inherited  until  Fanny  Keats  came  of  age;  and  the  un- 
divided residue  of  Mr.  Jennings's  estate  was  hopelessly 
tied  up  by  the  dilatory  methods  of  the  Court  of  Chancery. 

At  the  time  of  George's  going  to  America,  John  had,  in 
various  ways,  chiefly  through  his  apprenticeship  and  tui- 
tion fees,  but  also  by  over-spending  his  income,  reduced 
his  capital  to  five  hundred  pounds,  out  of  which  he  had  lent 
two  hundred.  George  had  spent  little  of  his  money  him- 
self, but  he  had  advanced  a  considerable  sum  to  John  and 
Tom,  for  Tom  had  not  only  the  expenses  of  illness  to  meet, 
he,  also,  had  spent  far  more  than  his  income.  George, 
wishing  to  take  ready  money  with  him,  sold  his  stock,  by 
doing  which  he  realized  an  extra  hundred  pounds,  which 
hundred  pounds  he  employed  in  paying  various  debts  con- 
tracted by  his  brothers.  He  left  five  hundred  pounds  be- 
hind him  for  John's  benefit  (whose  capital  at  this  time 
amounted  to  no  more  than  three  hundred  pounds),  four 
hundred  of  which  was  his  own  money,  and  one  hundred 
pounds  from  Tom's  share  of  the  general  fund  paid  him  by 
Abbey  because  of  what  he  had  advanced  to  Tom,  and  set 

i  Author's  Collection.  2  See  Vol.  I,  pp.  26-27. 


382  JOHN  KEATS 

sail  for  America  with  eleven  hundred  pounds  to  start  his 
new  life  upon,  all  of  which  he  lost  in  the  boat  venture  en- 
tered into  at  Audubon's  suggestion. 

Evidently  George,  in  1824,  thought  that  his  brothers 
were  deeply  in  his  debt.  Perhaps  they  were,  but  there 
seems  to  be  another  side  to  the  question.  George  had  prob- 
ably forgotten  a  letter  he  had  written  to  John  at  Teign- 
mouth  in  iSiS,1  but  a  copy  of  it  is  still  extant,2  and  in  it 
George  says: 

"I  am  about  paying  your's  as  well  as  Tom's  bills,  of 
which  I  shall  keep  regular  accounts  and  for  the  sake  of 
justice  and  a  future  proper  understanding  I  intend  calcu- 
lating the  probable  amount  Tom  and  I  are  indebted  to 
you,  something  of  this  kind  must  be  done,  or  at  the  end  of 
two  or  three  years  we  shall  be  all  at  sixes  and  sevens.7' 

Two  years  had  passed,  and  they  were  all  at  sixes  and 
sevens.  By  this  time,  George  seems  to  have  entirely  for- 
gotten that  he  had  ever  been  indebted  to  John  at  all.  Very 
likely  the  debts  to  and  fro  between  them  had  left  George 
John's  creditor  to  some  extent.  But  what  that  extent  was, 
George  himself  did  not  know.  He  says  that  up  to  the  mo- 
ment of  his  departure  the  brothers  had  had  everything  in 
common.  When,  in  January,  1820,  George  returned  to 
England,  Tom's  estate,  after  all  the  debts  contracted  by 
him  had  been  paid,  amounted  to  eleven  hundred  pounds. 
Out  of  this  sum,  John  had  drawn  a  hundred  pounds  for 
himself,  having  apparently  entirely  spent,  or  lent,  the 
three  hundred  pounds  George  says  he  had  a  year  and  a 
half  before.  He  had  also  drawn  a  second  hundred  pounds, 
which  he  had  sent  to  George. 

George's  first  act  on  his  return  was  to  go  over  the  ac- 
counts of  Tom's  property  and  make  a  proper  division  of  the 
whole.  He  immediately  gave  a  hundred  pounds  into  Ab- 
bey's hands  for  his  sister,  to  balance  the  like  sums  taken  by 

1  See  Vol.  I,  p.  605.  2  Author's  Collection. 


ILLNESS  383 

John  and  himself.   He  then  proceeded  to  divide  the  re- 
mainder, eight  hundred  pounds,  into  three  equal  parts, 
which  should  have  given  each  of  them  two  hundred  and 
sixty-odd  pounds.   (In  his  explanation,  George,  never  too 
accurate,  advances  the  divided  shares  to  two  hundred  and 
seventy  each,  for  the  purpose,  one  supposes,  of  a  simpler 
calculation.)   At  this  point  he  suggested  to  John  that  he 
should  reserve  a  hundred  pounds  of  his  third  for  immediate 
use,  and  place  the  remainder  in  his,  George's,  hands  for 
him  to  take  to  America  and  invest  in  whatever  business  he 
might  embark  upon.  John,  generous  to  a  fault,  and  a  baby 
where  money  was  concerned,  consented  readily  to  this 
proposition.    George  also   took   back  the  one  hundred 
pounds  given  him  by  Abbey  out  of  Tom's  money  the  year 
before  "in  consideration  of  what  I  had  done  for  Tom." 
(What  had  become  of  the  remaining  four  hundred  pounds 
also  left  behind  the  year  before,  he  does  not  say.   Very 
likely  part  of  it  had  been  spent  in  England  by  John  and 
Tom,  and  part  may  have  been  forwarded  to  him  in  Amer- 
ica.)  Counting  the  hundred  pounds  recently  sent  him  by 
John,  George  had  now  from  Tom's  estate  five  hundred  and 
forty  pounds  (his  calculation,  it  was  really  five  hundred 
and  thirty-two  pounds),  which,  with  the  previous  one  hun- 
dred pounds  given  him  by  Abbey,  brought  his  total  up  to 
six  hundred  and  forty  pounds.  To  this,  Abbey,  probably  as 
a  speculation,  added  sixty-odd  pounds  for  himself,  so  bring- 
ing the  sum  to  the  round  figure  of  seven  hundred  pounds, 
with  which  capital  George  started  back  to  America  in 
hopes  this  time  of  making  a  success  where  before  he  had 
met  with  such  signal  disaster. 

This  is  the  story,  as  far  as  it  is  possible  to  learn  it,  of 
those  financial  transactions  which  so  greatly  incensed 
Keats's  friends.  There  is  no  doubt  that  George  hoped  to  in- 
crease John's  capital  along  with  his  own,  and  had  every  in- 
tention of  treating  his  brother  with  the  utmost  fairness. 
But  it  is  also  true  that,  at  a  time  when  John  was  dying  and 


384  JOHN  KEATS 

in  grievous  need  of  funds,  George  had  money  of  his  which 
would  have  made  all  the  difference  could  he  have  obtained 
it.  George  did  not  know  the  extent  of  his  need,  nor  how  ill 
he  was,  and  having  sunk  the  money  in  another  boat  specu- 
lation was  powerless  to  remit  what  he  had  not  at  the 
moment  got.  In  the  end,  he  squarely  discharged  his  bro- 
ther's posthumous  debts;  but  even  this  action  could  not  re- 
store to  him  the  friendship  of  Brown,  Severn,  Haslam,  and 
others  who  were  firmly  persuaded  of  his  dishonesty.  Dilke, 
Reynolds,  and  Rice,  on  the  other  hand,  exonerated  George 
entirely  after  reading  his  explanation,  which  I  have  just 
paraphrased. 

George's  chief  fault  seems  to  have  lain  in  not  explain- 
ing matters  fully  to  John  while  he  was  in  England.  His 
explanation  to  Dilke  of  this  side  of  the  affair  was: 

"  John  himself  was  ignorant  of  the  real  state  of  his  funds, 
it  was  so  painful  a  subject  and  in  our  private  communi- 
cations he  was  so  extremely  melancholy  that  I  always  had 
to  shew  him  the  pleasing  side  of  things;  when  I  left  London 
I  had  not  courage  to  say  that  the  7Oo£  I  had  obtained  was 
not  all  ours  by  right,  he  therefore  imagined  it  was,  but  he 
never  thought  and  never  could  have  informed  anyone  that 
the  whole  was  his.  I  never  considered  it  necessary  to  let 
him  know  the  rights  of  it,  since  I  did  not  intend  to  limit  my 
remittances  but  by  my  means  ...  it  was  always  my  inten- 
tion to  keep  him  under  the  idea  that  I  was  in  his  debt/' 

This  was  most  mistaken  kindness  on  George's  part,  and 
I  fear  we  cannot  free  his  conduct  from  a  grain  of  self- 
interest  and  some  moral  cowardice.  But  there  is  no  doubt 
that  he  was  fully  persuaded  at  the  time  that  John  would 
benefit  in  the  end,  as  he  undoubtedly  would  have  done  had 
he  lived  a  few  years  longer.  For  George  did  finally  succeed, 
becoming  the  managing  partner  in  a  flourishing  flour-  and 
saw-mill  concern  which  yielded  him  ample  returns  on  his 
money. 

Fanny  Brawne,  who,  of  all  people,  had  reason  to  blame 


ILLNESS  385 

George,  spoke  of  him  with  wise  and  tempered  justice.  To 
be  sure,  her  correspondent  was  his  sister,  which  may  have 
affected  her  expression;  but,  considering  that  she  was 
writing  only  a  few  days  after  hearing  of  Keats's  death,  it 
seems  probable  that  she  spoke  her  mind  with  conviction. 
What  she  said  was  this: 

"  George  ...  is  no  favorite  of  mine  and  he  never  liked  me 
so  that  I  am  not  likely  to  say  too  much  in  his  favour  .  .  . 
but  I  must  say  I  think  he  is  more  blamed  than  he  should 
be.  I  think  him  extravagant .  .  .  but  people  in  their  zeal 
make  him  out  much  worse  than  that  —  Soon  after  .  . .  Tom 
died  .  .  .  John  wrote  to  him  offering  him  any  assistance  or 
money  in  his  power.  At  that  time  he  was  not  engaged  to 
me  and  having  just  lost  one  brother  felt  all  his  affection 
turned  toward  the  one  remaining  —  George  I  dare  say  at 
first  had  no  thoughts  of  accepting  his  offers  but  when  his 
affairs  did  not  succeed  and  he  had  a  wife  and  child  to 
support  I  cannot  wonder  that  he  should  consider  them 
first ...  By  that  time  he  wished  to  marry  himself  but  he 
could  not  refuse  the  money." 

It  was  this  letter  I  had  in  mind  when  I  said,  some  time 
ago,1  that  Keats  was  not  quite  candid  with  Fanny  Brawne 
in  the  matter  of  his  offer  of  assistance  to  George  sent  from 
Winchester.  The  offer  was  made  when  he  was  endeavoring 
to  wean  himself  from  Miss  Brawne.  That  he  deeply  re- 
gretted it,  we  can  very  well  believe,  but  the  fact  that  he 
had  made  it  was  undoubtedly  why  he  consented  to  George's 
proposition.  He  had  given  his  word,  and  we  saw  a  few 
pages  back  what  Brown  said  about  his  invariably  living  up 
to  his  word  when  once  given. 

I  have  dealt  with  this  circumstance  at  so  much  length, 
because  no  other  of  Keats's  biographers  has  done  more 
than  glance  at  it.  It  is  the  least  understood  of  the  facts 
of  Keats's  life;  but  that  it  is  an  exceedingly  important 
fact,  no  one  can  fail  to  see.  It  filled  his  last  year  with 

i  See  Vol.  II,  p.  349- 


386  JOHN  KEATS 

a  sordid  misery  which  he  might  have  been  spared,  and, 
after  his  death,  brought  about  a  feud  among  his  friends 
that  has  deprived  the  world  of  a  biography  written  by  any 
one  who  had  known  him.  In  spite  of  George's  assevera- 
tions, Keats  did  at  last  come  to  believe  that  the  seven 
hundred  pounds  had  all  been  his,  and  he  apparently  told 
his  friends  as  much.  For  Keats  to  lose  his  implicit  faith  in 
his  brother  was  a  terrible  thing,  and  uninformed  as  he  was, 
he  did  lose  it  to  a  certain  extent,  although  not  until  later, 
when  George's  failure  to  come  to  his  aid  —  a  failure  the 
cause  of  which  he  never  perfectly  realized  —  left  him  pufc- 
zled  and  surprised,  and  half  unconsciously  loosened  the  tie 
between  them  in  Keats's  mind.  It  was  not  to  George  that 
he  poured  out  his  heart  in  the  first  weeks  of  his  Italian 
journey;  it  was  to  Brown. 

The  weeks  which  George  spent  in  London  are  all  care- 
fully recorded  in  a  delightful  letter  which  John  wrote  to 
his  sister-in-law  in  America.  Keats  tries  to  be  jocular,  but 
he  cannot  quite  keep  his  morbidness  from  creeping  in, 
here  and  there.  George,  who  was  anxious  to  see  as  many  of 
his  old  friends  as  possible,  went  out  to  Deptford,  where 
Haslam,  who  had  been  married  on  October  sixteenth,  now 
lived.  Keats  had  not,  it  would  seem,  gone  to  the  wedding, 
and  he  could  not  bring  himself  to  go  to  Deptford  now  with 
George.  He  could  not  face  the  sight  of  a  couple  still  in 
honeymoon  temper,  and  we  can  easily  see  why.  Keats 
tells  Georgiana,  who  had  accused  him  of  filling  his  letters 
with  "Haydon  &  Co.,"  that  he  is  very  idle,  and  that  he 
never  sees  Haydon  or  Co.  But  he  was  seeing  a  few  people 
nevertheless,  principally  on  George's  account.  The  bro- 
thers went  about  a  good  deal  among  their  various  friends; 
we  are  told  of  a  dinner  at  Taylor's,  "a  pianoforte  hop"  at 
Dilke's,  of  going  to  the  play  with  Mrs.  Wylie;  but  beneath 
Keats's  account  of  these  mild  gaieties,  there  is  the  ever- 
present  undercurrent  of  bitterness  and  gloom.  He  looked 
out  on  the  world  with  jaundiced  eyes.  All  was  tasteless, 


ILLNESS  387 

because  he  was  a  very  sick  man  and  a  miserably  unhappy 
one.  Georgiana  might  well  have  taken  alarm  at  this  pas- 
sage: 

"  I  am  tired  of  the  theatres.  Almost  all  parties  I  may 
chance  to  fall  into  I  know  by  heart ...  If  I  go  to  Hunt's,  I 
run  my  head  into  many  tunes  heard  before,  old  puns  and 
old  music;  to  Haydon's  worn-out  discourses  of  poetry  and 
painting.  The  Miss  R[eynolds]'s  I  am  afraid  to  speak  to, 
for  fear  of  some  sickly  reiteration  of  phrase  or  sentiment .  .  . 
At  Dilke's  I  fall  foul  of  politics.  Tis  best  to  remain  aloof 
from  people  and  like  their  good  parts  without  being 
eternally  troubled  with  the  dull  process  of  their  every-day 
lives  .  .  .  All  I  can  say  is  that,  standing  at  Charing  Cross 
and  looking  east,  west,  north,  and  south  I  see  nothing  but 
dulness." 

The  letter  was  begun  on  Thursday,  January  thirteenth, 
and  continued  at  intervals  for  two  weeks.  On  Friday, 
January  twenty-eighth,  Keats  saw  George  off  to  Liverpool 
on  the  "Royal  Alexander"  coach  leaving  the  King's 
Arms,  Snow  Hill,  at  six  in  the  morning.  His  last  entry  to 
his  sister-in-law  is  dated  on  that  day,  after  his  return  to 
Hampstead.  He  had  forgotten  to  give  George  the  letter 
before  he  started,  and  closes  in  a  hurry  so  that  it  may  be 
sure  to  catch  the  mail  that  evening  and  reach  George  before 
he  sailed.  It  must  have  done  so,  for  the  mail  was  due  in 
Liverpool  at  three  o'clock  on  Sunday  morning,  and  George 
himself  had  only  got  there  at  four  the  afternoon  before.  On 
that  same  Sunday,  George  wrote  to  John,1  telling  him  that 
he  had  had  a  cold  ride,  but  had  gone  immediately  upon  his 
arrival  to  see  about  sailings  and  had  secured  a  passage  in 
the  "Courier"  packet,  leaving  on  the  following  Tuesday, 
before  he  went  to  bed. 

One  thing  Keats  told  Georgiana  at  the  very  end  of  his 
letter.  It  was  that  he  intended  "  to  retire  into  the  country." 
Evidently  Keats  had  come  to  the  conclusion  that  his  only 

1  Unpublished  letter.   Day  Collection. 


388  JOHN  KEATS 

hope  of  getting  on  his  feet  again  mentally  was  to  reproduce 
somewhere  the  weeks  in  Winchester. 

George's  visit  had  not  been  to  either  of  the  brothers  what 
they  might  have  expected.  George  had  found  John  very 
much  changed.  "He  was  not  the  same  person,"  he  told 
Dilke  many  years  afterwards,  "altho'  his  reception  of  me 
was  as  warm  as  heart  could  wish,  he  did  not  speak  with  his 
former  openness  and  unreserve,  he  had  lost  the  reviving 
custom  of  venting  his  griefs."  It  is  not  difficult  to  see  why 
this  was.  Keats  needed  the  money  he  felt  constrained  to 
let  George  have,  and  George  permitted  his  brother  to  see 
that  he  did  not  like  Fanny  Brawne.  George  appears  to 
have  been  told  of  the  engagement,  but  his  attitude  can  be 
judged  by  the  fact  that,  in  sending  his  greetings  to  various 
friends  in  the  Liverpool  letter,  all  he  can  bring  himself  to 
say  of  the  Brawnes  is  "Rem9  to  your  neighbours."  In  the 
following  November,  he  wrote  to  John:  "If  we  meet  a  safe 
opportunity  for  England  we  will  send  Miss  Brawne  an 
india  Crape  dress  or  marino  shawl  or  something  scarce 
with  you,  but  cheap  with  us.  She  has  our  thanks  for  her 
kindness  during  your  illness."  Let  us  hope  John  never  re- 
ceived this  letter,  or,  if  it  followed  him  to  Rome,  that  it 
was  never  read.  Four  years  later,  George  speaks  of  the 
Brawnes  to  Dilke  as  "Mrs.  Brawne  and  her  lovely 
daughter,"  but  the  epithet  rings  a  little  false,  and  by  that 
time  George's  opinion  of  Miss  Brawne  was  of  no  conse- 
quence to  anyone. 

George  took  more  to  America  with  him  than  money;  he 
took  copies  of  many  of  Keats's  poems  which  he  had  been  at 
pains  to  make  while  in  London,  for,  in  spite  of  the  ques- 
tionable ethics  of  his  conduct,  his  affection  for  his  brother 
and  interest  in  his  work  was  genuine  and  never  wavered. 

On  Thursday,  February  third,  the  crash  came.  The 
weather  had  been  very  changeable.  In  the  middle  of  Jan- 
uary there  had  been  snow,  Keats  had  told  Georgiana  that 
"The  sun  comes  upon  the  snow  and  makes  a  prettier 


ILLNESS  389 

candy  than  we  have  on  twelfth-night  cakes."  It  had  still 
been  cold  when  George  started  for  Liverpool;  but  sud- 
denly there  came  a  thaw,  the  kind  of  thaw  which  tempts  to 
imprudence  and  ill  rewards  confidence.  On  this  Thursday, 
Keats  had  gone  to  town,  and  had  most  unwisely  left  off 
his  warm  greatcoat.  He  returned  by  a  late  stage,  and,  ac- 
cording to  his  usual  practice,  on  the  top  of  it.  Thaw 
though  it  was,  the  night  air  was  very  different  from  that 
of  the  previous  day.  It  was  raw,  damp,  and  penetrating, 
and  Keats  was  without  his  greatcoat.  The  result  was  that 
he  caught  a  bad  chill.  Brown's  account  of  this  evening  is 
well  known,  but  it  must  be  repeated  again  here.  It  is  as 
follows: 

"  At  eleven  o'clock,  he  came  into  the  house  in  a  state  that 
looked  like  fierce  intoxication.  Such  a  state  in  him,  I  knew, 
was  impossible;  it  therefore  was  the  more  fearful.  I  asked 
hurriedly,  'What  is  the  matter?  you  are  fevered?'  'Yes, 
yes,'  he  answered,  'I  was  on  the  outside  of  the  stage  this 
bitter  day  till  I  was  severely  chilled,  —  but  now  I  don't 
feel  it.  Fevered!  —  of  course,  a  little.'  He  mildly  and 
instantly  yielded,  a  property  in  his  nature  towards  any 
friend,  to  my  request  that  he  should  go  to  bed.  I  entered  his 
chamber  as  he  leapt  into  bed.  On  entering  the  cold  sheets, 
before  his  head  was  on  the  pillow,  he  slightly  coughed,  and  I 
heard  him  say,  —  'That  is  blood  from  my  mouth.'  I  went 
towards  him;  he  was  examining  a  single  drop  of  blood  upon 
the  sheet.  '  Bring  me  the  candle,  Brown,  and  let  me  see 
this  blood.'  After  regarding  it  steadfastly  he  looked  up  in 
my  face,  with  a  calmness  of  countenance  that  I  can  never 
forget,  and  said,  —  ' I  know  the  colour  of  that  blood;  —  it 
is  arterial  blood ;  —  I  cannot  be  deceived  in  that  colour;  — 
that  drop  of  blood  is  my  death-warrant;  —  I  must  die.'  I 
ran  for  a  surgeon;  my  friend  was  bled;  and,  at  five  in  the 
morning,  I  left  him  after  he  had  been  some  time  in  a  quiet 
sleep." 

The  moment  Keats  had  for  months  secretly  dreaded  had 
come,  but  the  marvel  is  that  it  had  delayed  so  long.  Yet, 


390  JOHN  KEATS 

even  now,  the  doctors  refused  to  consider  his  attack  an 
evidence  of  pulmonary  tuberculosis.  They  palliated  the 
symptoms,  and  denied  the  cause. 

The  very  next  day,  although  kept  in  bed,  Keats  was 
able  to  write  to  Miss  Brawne: 

"DEAREST  FANNY,  I  shall  send  this  the  moment  you  return. 
They  say  I  must  remain  confined  to  this  room  for  some 
time.  The  consciousness  that  you  love  me  will  make  a 
pleasant  prison  of  the  house  next  to  yours.  You  must  come 
and  see  me  frequently:  this  evening  without  fail  —  when 
you  must  not  mind  my  speaking  in  a  low  tone  for  I  am 
ordered  to  do  so  though  I  can  speak  out. 

Yours  ever 

sweetest  love.  — 
J.  KEATS." 

At  the  bottom  of  the  page,  Keats  wrote  "turn  over,"  and 
on  the  other  side  of  the  sheet  continued: 

"  Perhaps  your  Mother  is  not  at  home  and  so  you  must 
wait  till  she  comes.  You  must  see  me  to-night  and  let  me 
hear  you  say  you  will  come  to-morrow. 

Brown  said  you  were  all  out.  I  have  been  looking  for  the 
stage  the  whole  afternoon.  Had  I  known  this  I  could  not 
have  remained  so  silent  all  day." 

By  this  letter  we  plainly  see  that,  however  jealous  Keats 
had  sometimes  been,  however  unworthily  he  had  occasion- 
ally been  led  to  think  of  Miss  Brawne,  the  moment  he  was 
in  serious  trouble  he  turned  to  her  with  longing  and  confi- 
dence. The  last  sentence  of  his  note  seems  to  imply  a  pre- 
vious note  from  Fanny,  telling  him  that  she  had  been  at 
home  all  day,  but  was  going  out  for  a  little  while. 

From  this  fourth  of  February,  life  for  Keats  settled  itself 
for  nearly  two  months  to  an  entirely  different  routine,  the 
routine  of  a  carefully  cherished  invalid.  Brown  was  inde- 
fatigable in  his  attentions,  but  in  one  particular  his  tact 
failed,  and  inexperience  of  illness  led  him  into  a  blunder. 


ILLNESS  391 

He  had  been  amusing  himself  by  copying  heads  from  en- 
gravings of  Hogarth  s  pictures.  One,  newly  purchased, 
was  the  Methodist  Meeting.  This  picture  haunted  Keats, 
and,  sick  as  he  was,  gave  him  what  he  called  a  "psalm- 
singing  night-mare,"  it  was  in  fact  responsible  for  some 
very  uncomfortable  nights,  yet  it  does  not  seem  to  have 
occurred  to  Brown  to  keep  it  out  of  sight. 

From  the  very  first,  the  Brawnes,  both  mother  and 
daughter,  were  unwearied  in  their  efforts  to  do  everything 
possible  for  Keats.  Fanny  ceased  entirely  her  excursions 
to  town,  and  held  herself  ready  to  come  and  see  her  lover  at 
whatever  time  in  the  day  he  wanted  her.  This  visit  was  a 
daily  one,  except  on  certain  occasions  when  Brown  or  the 
doctor  thought  it  wiser  for  her  not  to  come.  But  whether 
she  came  or  not,  she  wrote.  We  have  none  of  her  notes, 
sent  by  hand  to  the  invalid,  but  from  the  tenor  of  Keats's 
answers  we  know  them  to  have  been  warm  and  reassuring 
ones.  Now  it  was  she  who  worried,  fearing  that  her  lover 
might  find  her  cold.  Keats's  reply  to  one  such  letter  tells 
us  much: 

"  I  wish  I  had  read  your  note  before  you  went  last  night 
that  I  might  have  assured  you  how  far  I  was  from  suspect- 
ing any  coldness.  You  had  a  just  right  to  be  a  little  silent 
to  one  who  speaks  so  plainly  to  you.  You  must  believe  — 
you  shall,  you  will  —  that  I  can  do  nothing,  say  nothing, 
think  nothing  of  you  but  what  has  its  spring  in  the  Love 
which  has  so  long  been  my  pleasure  and  torment.  On  the 
night  I  was  taken  ill  —  when  so  violent  a  rush  of  blood 
came  to  my  Lungs  that  I  felt  nearly  suffocated  —  I  assure 
you  I  felt  it  possible  I  might  not  survive,  and  at  that 
moment  thought  of  nothing  but  you.  When  I  said  to 
Brown  'this  is  unfortunate'  I  thought  of  you.  'Tis  true 
that  since  the  first  two  or  three  days  other  subjects  have 
entered  my  head.  I  shall  be  looking  forward  to  Health  and 
the  Spring  and  a  regular  routine  of  our  old  Walks." 

Keats  made  every  effort  to  keep  both  Miss  Brawne  and 


392  JOHN  KEATS 

his  sister  from  realizing  the  extent  of  his  fears  for  himself. 
He  tells  his  sister  that  everybody  has  a  cold,  even  Brown 
is  "a  little  wheezy."  But  although  the  doctor's  diagnosis 
gave  his  fears  no  encouragement,  Keats's  medical  studies 
forbade  him  to  take  a  sanguine  view  of  his  condition.  So 
squarely  did  he  regard  his  case,  that  he  hinted  to  Fanny 
Brawne  that  it  might  be  wiser  for  her  to  terminate  their 
engagement.  Her  reply  was  a  flat  negative.  His  answer  to 
this  shows  his  intense  relief: 

"How  hurt  I  should  have  been  had  you  ever  acceded  to 
what  is,  notwithstanding,  very  reasonable!  How  much  the 
more  do  I  love  you  from  the  general  result! . . .  My  greatest 
torment  since  I  have  known  you  has  been  the  fear  of  you 
being  a  little  inclined  to  the  Cressid ;  but  that  suspicion  I 
dismiss  utterly  and  remain  happy  in  the  surety  of  your 
Love,  which  I  assure  you  is  as  much  a  wonder  to  me  as  a 
delight.  Send  me  the  words  '  Good  night '  to  put  under  my 
pillow." 

After  this,  Fanny  Brawne  sent  him  a  written  "Good 
night"  every  evening. 

Keats  was  kept  in  bed  for  two  days,  but  on  the  third  he 
was  allowed  to  lie  in  the  front  parlour  on  the  sofa  made  up 
as  a  bed.  Of  this  removal,  he  wrote  to  his  sister,  in  his  old 
vein  of  quaint  humour,  partly  the  result  of  his  change  of 
surroundings,  undoubtedly,  but  even  more  certainly  of  his 
determination  not  to  let  the  young  girl  worry  about  him: 

"  How  much  more  comfortable  than  a  dull  room  upstairs, 
where  one  gets  tired  of  the  pattern  of  the  bed  curtains.  Be- 
sides I  see  all  that  passes  —  for  instance  now,  this  morning 
—  if  I  had  been  in  my  own  room  I  should  not  have  seen  the 
coals  brought  in.  On  sunday  between  the  hours  of  twelve 
and  one  I  descried  a  Pot  boy.  I  conjectured  it  might  be  the 
one  o'clock  beer  —  Old  women  with  bobbins  and  red 
cloaks  and  unpresuming  bonnets  I  see  creeping  about  the 
heath.  Gipseys  after  hare  skins  and  silver  spoons.  Then 
goes  by  a  fellow  with  a  wooden  clock  under  his  arm  that 


ILLNESS 


393 


strikes  a  hundred  and  more.  Then  comes  the  old  French 
emigrant  (who  has  been  very  well  to  do  in  France)  with  his 
hands  joined  behind  on  his  hips,  and  his  face  full  of  political 
schemes  ...  As  for  those  fellows  the  Brickmakers  they  are 
always  passing  to  and  fro." 

This  is  by  no  means  the  end  of  Keats's  list  of  what  his 
window  revealed,  but  it  will  serve  to  show  how  indomi- 
table a  will  he  opposed  to  illness  when  it  finally  came. 
Either  his  weakened  vitality  lessened  his  torments  of 
mind  and  sex,  or  Fanny  Brawne's  tenderness  had  raised 
him  on  so  high  a  pinnacle  of  security  that  he  could  defy 
them.  Probably  they  were  equal  agents  in  the  better  bal- 
ance he  certainly  had  during  the  weeks  of  his  confinement. 

On  Thursday,  the  tenth,  he  was  well  enough  to  walk 
round  the  garden  for  a  quarter  of  an  hour,  and  this  he  was 
able  to  repeat,  weather  permitting,  on  subsequent  days. 
So  far  his  improvement  went,  but  no  farther,  and  he  began 
to  chafe  a  little  at  the  apparent  halt  in  his  recovery.  The 
powers  that  were  —  probably  the  doctor,  Brown,  and  Mrs. 
Brawne  —  put  their  heads  together  and  decided  that  to 
see  Fanny  every  day  was  too  exciting,  so  her  visits  were 
ordered  to  be  spaced  a  little  more  widely.  "According  to 
all  appearances  I  am  to  be  separated  from  you  as  much  as 
possible,"  he  wrote  her.  "How  I  shall  be  able  to  bear  it,  or 
whether  it  will  not  be  worse  than  your  presence  now  and 
then,  I  cannot  tell,"  and  he  urges  her  no  longer  to  refrain 
from  going  to  town.  He  thinks  she  had  better  not  come 
before  "  tomorrow  evening,"  but  begs  her  to  send  "without 
fail  a  good  night."  At  the  end  of  the  letter,  his  sense  of 
honour  forces  him  once  more  to  do  the  decent  thing: 

"You  know  our  situation  —  what  hope  is  there  if  I 
should  be  recovered  ever  so  soon  —  my  very  health  will  not 
suffer  me  to  make  any  great  exertion.  I  am  recommended 
not  even  to  read  poetry,  much  less  write  it.  I  wish  I  had 
even  a  little  hope.  I  cannot  say  forget  me  —  but  I  would 
mention  that  there  are  impossibilities  in  this  world." 


394  JOHN  KEATS 

Fanny's  counter  to  this  was  to  accuse  him  of  wishing  to 
forget  her.  He  wrote  again,  assuring  her  that  he  had 
thought  only  of  her;  for  himself: 

"I  should  as  soon  think  of  choosing  to  die  as  to  part 
from  you." 

Yet  he  feels  constrained  to  add: 

"  Believe  too  my  Love  that  our  friends  think  and  speak 
for  the  best,  and  if  their  best  is  not  our  best  it  is  not  their 
fault." 

But  Fanny  Brawne,  we  remember,  was  not  easily  turned 
aside  from  any  course  of  action  she  had  determined  upon, 
and  how  much  less  in  such  a  thing  as  marriage.  She  must 
have  told  Keats  that  she  did  not  care  a  button  what  any 
one  said,  for  this  is  his  reply: 

"Then  all  we  have  to  do  is  to  be  patient.  Whatever 
violence  I  may  sometimes  do  myself  by  hinting  at  what 
would  appear  to  any  one  but  ourselves  a  matter  of  necessity, 
I  do  not  think  I  could  bear  any  approach  of  a  thought  of 
losing  you." 

So  things  resumed  what  was  become  their  normal  habit. 
Miss  Brawne  came  frequently  and  wrote  every  night.  She 
would  also  go  out  into  the  garden  in  order  that  Keats 
might  see  her  from  the  back  parlour  where  he  seems  to 
have  taken  to  sitting.  Sometimes  she  would  appear  at  her 
window  when  he,  in  his  turn,  was  taking  a  turn  outdoors. 

Two  weeks  after  his  haemorrhage,  on  February  sixteenth, 
he  wrote  to  Rice,  a  rather  sad  letter  which  contains  this 
wistful  paragraph: 

"  How  astonishingly  (here  I  must  premise  that  illness,  as 
far  as  I  can  judge  in  so  short  a  time,  has  relieved  my  mind 
of  a  load  of  deceptive  thoughts  and  images,  and  makes 
me  perceive  things  in  a  truer  light),  —  how  astonishingly 
does  the  chance  of  leaving  the  world  impress  a  sense  of  its 


ILLNESS  395 

natural  beauties  upon  us! ...  I  muse  with  the  greatest 
affection  on  every  flower  I  have  known  from  my  infancy  — 
their  shapes  and  colours  are  as  new  to  me  as  if  I  had  just 
created  them  with  a  superhuman  fancy ...  I  have  seen 
foreign  flowers  in  hothouses,  of  the  most  beautiful  nature, 
but  I  do  not  care  a  straw  for  them.  The  simple  flowers  of 
our  Spring  are  what  I  want  to  see  again." 

The  treatment  of  tuberculosis  in  the  early  nineteenth 
century  was  diametrically  opposed  to  that  of  the  present 
day.  It  seems  to  have  been  entirely  focussed  on  the 
symptoms  of  the  disease,  not  at  all  on  the  disease  itself. 
If  the  patient  had  a  haemorrhage,  he  was  promptly  bled, 
and  his  food  reduced  to  a  minimum  and  vegetable  at  that. 
Keats  speaks  of  the  "small  quantity  of  food  to  which  I  am 
obliged  to  confine  myself:  I  am  sure  a  mouse  would  starve 
upon  it."  By  this  process  of  attrition  the  patient  was  so 
wasted  that  the  haemorrhages,  at  least  in  the  early  stages 
of  illness,  were  often  temporarily  diminished,  whereat  the 
doctor  rejoiced  and  declared  that  his  remedies  were  taking 
effect.  Keats  was  so  extraordinarily  vigorous  a  man  that 
there  is  little  doubt  that,  under  the  regime  prescribed  for 
tuberculous  patients  to-day,  he  would  have  lived  for  many 
years,  if  not  have  recovered  entirely.  As  it  was,  every- 
thing was  done  to  kill  him  and  nothing  to  cure.  Through- 
out this  attack,  we  hear  a  great  deal  of  the  starvation  diet, 
"living  on  pseudo-victuals,"  Keats  calls  it,  and  he  warns 
Fanny  Brawne  that,  if  she  finds  him  "low-spirited,"  she 
must  ascribe  it  to  the  medicine  he  is  taking  "which  is  of  a 
nerve-shaking  nature."  The  doctors  assured  him  that 
there  was  "very  little  the  matter"  with  him,  but  he  adds, 
with  a  shrewdness  beyond  their  wisdom:  "I  cannot  be- 
lieve them  till  the  weight  and  tightness  of  my  Chest  is 
mitigated." 

Two  great  obstructions  to  recovery  were  constantly 
preying  upon  him.  One  of  his  notes  to  Fanny  Brawne  con- 
tains this  passage: 


396  JOHN  KEATS 

"How  illness  stands  as  a  barrier  betwixt  me  and  you! 
Even  if  I  was  well  —  I  must  make  myself  as  good  a 
Philosopher  as  possible.  Now  I  have  had  opportunities  of 
passing  nights  anxious  and  awake  I  have  found  other 
thoughts  obtrude  upon  me.  '  If  I  should  die,'  said  I  to  my- 
self, '  I  have  left  no  immortal  work  behind  me  —  nothing 
to  make  my  friends  proud  of  my  memory  —  but  I  have 
lov'd  the  principle  of  beauty  in  all  things,  and  if  I  had  had 
time  I  would  have  made  myself  remember'd." 

Poor  fellow,  if  only  he  could  have  known  the  verdict  of 
posterity,  and  how  many  of  these  same  friends  are  remem- 
bered solely  because  of  their  connection  with  him ! 

As  time  went  on,  and  Keats  did  not  seem  to  gain,  Miss 
Brawne  became  alarmed  and  began  to  fear  that  something 
was  being  kept  from  her.  Toward  the  end  of  February,  she 
demanded  to  know  the  truth.  To  this,  Keats  answered: 

"  Indeed  I  will  not  deceive  you  in  respect  to  my  health. 
This  is  the  fact  as  far  as  I  know.  I  have  been  confined 
three  weeks  and  am  not  yet  well  —  this  proves  that  there  is 
something  wrong  about  me  which  my  constitution  will 
either  conquer  or  give  way  to.  Let  us  hope  for  the  best." 

Still,  even  as  he  writes,  a  thrush  is  singing,  and  he  tells 
Fanny  not  to  send  back  any  more  of  his  books:  "I  have  a 
great  pleasure  in  the  thought  of  you  looking  on  them." 

On  February  twenty-third  or  twenty-fifth  (the  letter  is 
undated,  and  the  postmark  difficult  to  read),  Keats  wrote 
to  Reynolds,  who  was  planning  a  trip  to  Brussels.  Among 
other  things  which  Keats  says  in  this  letter  is  the  following 
interesting  statement: 

11 1  hope  I  shall  soon  be  well  enough  to  proceed  with  my 
fa[e]ries  and  set  you  about  the  notes  on  Sundays  and 
Stray-days." 

The  "  faeries"  were,  of  course,  those  in  the  Cap  and  Bells. 
The  scheme  of  the  poem  was  to  include  a  series  of  "  notes" 
to  give  a  mock  appearance  of  erudition  to  the  poem  and  so 


ILLNESS  397 

add  to  the  joke.  Apparently  Reynolds,  with  his  keen  wit, 
Was  to  be  responsible  for  these.  This  passage  is  particu- 
larly important,  for  it  proves  that  Keats's  erstwhile  pet- 
tishness  with  the  poem  had  quite  disappeared,  and  that  he 
had  every  intention  of  finishing  it  when  he  should  be  well 
enough  to  write  again. 

As  soon  as  Keats  was  able  to  see  people,  which  seems  to 
have  been  fairly  soon  after  his  attack,  his  friends  made  a 
point  of  coming  out  to  see  him.  Even  Mrs.  Wylie  came, 
everybody  indeed  but  Fanny  Keats,  poor  girl.  Abbey 
appears  to  have  recognized  no  reason  for  her  to  go  and  see 
her  brother,  and  she  was  still  under  age,  and  entirely  sub- 
ject to  his  orders.  How  Mrs.  Jennings  would  have  felt  if 
she  could  have  seen  the  working  out  of  her  plan  for  the 
protection  and  comfort  of  her  grandchildren,  is  something 
not  pleasant  to  speculate  upon. 

Before  Mrs.  Wylie  had  made  her  first  visit,  some  time, 
probably,  toward  the  end  of  February,  Keats  wrote  her  a 
letter.1  A  small  fragment  of  this  letter  was  published  by 
Buxton  Forman,  evidently  all  he  had  seen,  and,  having 
nothing  to  go  upon,  he  attributed  it  to  quite  a  wrong  date. 
The  whole  of  the  letter  has  never  been  printed,  and  as  so 
small  a  portion  was  published  by  Buxton  Forman,  I  give  it 
here  in  full. 

"Wentworth  Place 

Friday  Morn. 
MY  DEAR  MRS.  WYLIE. 

I  have  been  very  negligent  in  not  letting  you  hear  from 
me  for  so  long  a  time  considering  the  anxiety  I  know  you 
feel  for  me.  Charles  has  been  here  this  morning  and  will 
tell  you  that  I  am  better.  Just  as  he  came  in  I  was  sitting 
down  to  write  to  you,  and  I  shall  not  let  his  visit  supersede 
these  few  lines.  Charles  enquired  whether  I  had  heard  from 
George.  It  is  impossible  to  guess  whether  he  has  landed 
yet,  and  if  he  has  it  will  take  at  least  a  month  for  any 

1  Day  Collection. 


398  JOHN  KEATS 

communication  to  reach  us.  I  hope  you  keep  your  spirits  a 
great  height  above  freezing  point  and  live  in  expectation  of 
good  news  next  summer.  Louisville  is  not  such  a  Monstrous 
distance:  if  Georgiana  liv'd  at  York  it  would  be  just  as  far 
off.  You  see  George  will  make  nothing  of  the  journey  here 
and  back.  His  absence  will  have  been  perhaps  a  fortunate 
thing  for  Georgiana,  for  the  pleasure  of  his  return  will  be 
so  great  that  it  will  wipe  away  the  consciousness  of  many 
troubles  felt  before  very  deeply.  She  will  see  him  return'd 
from  us  and  be  convinced  that  the  separation  is  not  so  very 
formidable  although  the  Atlantic  is  between.  If  George 
succeeds  it  will  be  better  certainly  that  they  should  stop  in 
America:  if  not  why  not  return?  It  is  better  in  ill  luck  to 
have  at  least  the  comfort  of  ones  friends  than  to  be  ship- 
wreck'd  among  Americans.  But  I  have  good  hopes  as  far 
as  I  can  judge  from  what  I  have  heard  from  George.  He 
should  by  this  time  be  taught  Alertness  and  Carefulness  — 
If  they  should  stop  in  America  for  five  or  six  years  let  us 
hope  they  may  have  about  Three  Children :  then  the  eldest 
will  be  getting  old  enough  to  be  society.  The  very  crying 
will  keep  their  ears  employed,  and  their  spirits  from  being 
melancholy.  Mrs.  Millar  I  hear  continues  confined  to  her 
Chamber  —  if  she  would  take  my  advice  I  should  recom- 
mend her  to  keep  it  till  the  middle  of  April  and  then  go 
to  some  Sea-town  in  Devonshire  which  is  sheltered  from  the 
east  wind  —  which  blows  down  the  channel  very  briskly 
even  in  April.  Give  my  Compliments  to  Miss  Millar  and 
Miss  Waldegrave. 

Your  affectionate  friend 

JOHN  KEATS." 

It  speaks  much  for  Keats's  thoughtful  consideration  that> 
ill  as  he  was,  he  should  have  written  to  Mrs.  Wylie  to  re- 
lieve her  anxiety  about  George's  return  voyage. 

Try  as  he  would,  Keats  was  himself  and  had  his  own 
temperament  to  reckon  with.  It  need  not  surprise  us, 
therefore,  to  find  him  imagining  a  flirtatious  tendency  in 
Brown  directed  towards  Fanny  Brawne.  It  was  all  the 
merest  moonshine,  as  we  know,  but  he  could  not  get  rid  of 


ILLNESS  399 

it.  The  result  was  that  he  decided  that  Fanny's  visits, 
those  visits  in  which  she  brought  her  work  and  stayed  some 
little  time,  should  be  made  only  when  Brown  was  out  of 
the  house.  Perhaps  it  was  to  reassure  him  on  this  score  that 
Miss  Brawne  gave  him  a  ring.  Such  a  token  could  not  fail 
of  being  the  greatest  comfort  to  Keats.  We  do  not  know 
how  this  ring  was  made,  whether  it  was  of  plain  gold  or 
had  some  sort  of  a  stone.  I  incline  to  think  that  it  was  a 
seal  ring,  of  agate  or  carnelian,  for  their  joint  names  seem 
to  have  been  engraved  upon  it.  The  day  after  receiving  it, 
he  wrote  to  Fanny: 

"The  power  of  your  benediction  is  not  of  so  weak  a 
nature  as  to  pass  from  the  ring  in  four  and  twenty  hours  — 
it  is  like  a  sacred  Chalice  once  consecrated  and  ever  conse- 
crate. I  shall  kiss  your  name  and  mine  where  your  Lips 
have  been." 

In  another  note,  which  Buxton  Forman  puts  after  this 
one,  Keats  at  last  says  what  Fanny  Brawne  had  been 
waiting  a  year  to  have  him  say: 

"You  uttered  a  half  complaint  once  that  I  only  lov'd 
your  Beauty.  Have  I  nothing  else  then  to  love  in  you  but 
that?  Do  I  not  see  a  heart  naturally  furnish 'd  with  wings 
imprison  itself  with  me?  No  ill  prospect  has  been  able  to 
turn  your  thoughts  a  moment  from  me.  This  perhaps 
should  be  as  much  a  subject  of  sorrow  as  joy  —  but  I  will 
not  think  of  that.*' 

A  little  later  on,  he  writes: 

"How  can  you  bear  so  long  an  imprisonment  at  Hamp- 
stead?  I  shall  always  remember  it  with  all  the  gusto  that  a 
monopolizing  carl  should.  I  could  build  an  Altar  to  you 
for  it." 

Yet  how  quickly  he  forgot,  we  shall  soon  see.  Still  we  must 
not  blame  him;  Fanny  Brawne  did  not.  She  understood 
his  nature,  and  the  nature  of  his  illness,  too  well. 


400  JOHN  KEATS 

By  the  end  of  February,  the  outer  world  began  to  knock 
at  Keats's  door  again.  Bryan  Waller  Proctor  ("Barry 
Cornwall"),  whom  he  did  not  know,  sent  him  his  Sicilian 
Story  y  just  published,  and,  shortly  after,  his  first  book, 
Martian  Colonnay  in  place  of  a  copy  sent  much  earlier  by 
Hunt  who  had  forgotten  to  deliver  it.  In  the  interval  be- 
tween these  gifts,  Proctor  got  Hunt  to  take  him  to  see 
Keats.  Proctor's  impression  of  his  host,  gained  on  this  and 
one  or  two  subsequent  visits,  is  particularly  interesting, 
since  it  shows  that  to  strangers  the  effect  of  Keats's  per- 
sonality was  the  same  that  it  had  always  been.  Proctor 
describes1  him  thus: 

"  I  was  introduced  to  him  by  Leigh  Hunt,  and  found  him 
very  pleasant,  and  free  from  all  affectation  in  manner  and 
opinion.  Indeed  it  would  be  difficult  to  discover  a  man 
with  a  more  bright  and  open  countenance.  He  was  always 
ready  to  hear  and  to  reply;  to  discuss,  to  reason,  to  admit; 
and  to  join  in  serious  talk  or  common  gossip  ...  I  never  en- 
countered a  more  manly  and  simple  young  man. 

In  person  he  was  short,  and  had  eyes  large  and  wonder- 
fully luminous,  and  a  resolute  bearing;  not  defiant,  but  well 
sustained." 

Keats  considered  Proctor's  sending  him  the  books  "a 
specimen  of  great  politeness,"  but  the  poems  themselves 
he  could  not  like.  He  wrote  to  Reynolds: 

"  I  confess  they  teaze  me  —  they  are  composed  of 
amiability,  the  Seasons,  the  Leaves,  the  Moon  &c.  upon 
which  he  rings  (according  to  Hunt's  expression)  triple  bob 
majors.  However  that  is  nothing  —  I  think  he  likes  poetry 
for  its  own  sake,  not  his." 

Another  reminder  of  the  world  came  in  the  shape  of  a 
hint  from  his  publishers  that  they  should  like  to  start  on 
the  printing  of  his  new  book  as  soon  as  possible.  This 
was  welcome,  but  rather  appalling,  news;  however,  before 

1  Recollections  of  Men  of  Letters,  by  B.  W.  Proctor. 


ILLNESS  401 

anything  could  be  done,  Keats  was  taken  suddenly  quite 
ill,  not  with  a  haemorrhage  this  time,  but  with  something 
in  the  nature  of  a  heart  attack.  It  occurred  on  Monday, 
March  sixth,  and  on  Wednesday,  the  eighth,  he  was  still  so 
ill  that  his  condition  excited  real  alarm  and  caused  Brown 
to  write  the  following  letter  to  Taylor:1 

"Hampstead 
Wednesday  8th  March. 
DEAR  TAYLOR, 

Poor  Keats  will  be  unable  to  prepare  his  Poems  for  the 
Press  for  a  long  time.  He  was  taken  on  Monday  evening 
with  violent  palpitations  at  the  heart,  and  has  since  re- 
mained too  weak  to  get  up.  I  expect  Dr.  Bree  every  hour. 

I  am  wretchedly  depressed. 

Your's  sincerely, 

CHAS  BROWN." 

On  the  reverse  of  the  sheet,  Brown  added: 

"  If  you  come,  do  not  let  him  hear  your  voice,  as  the 
slightest  circumstance  tending  to  create  surprize,  or  any 
other  emotion,  must  be  avoided. 

C.B. 

P.S.  Since  writing  the  above,  Dr.  Bree  has  been  here,  and 
I  am  rejoiced  to  say  gives  very  favourable  hopes. 

C.B." 

Two  days  later,  however,  Keats  was  up  and  about  again, 
and  even  able  to  resume  his  walks  in  the  garden.  He  was 
very  nervous,  but  this  was  laid  at  the  door  of  his  enervat- 
ing diet.  How  fearfully  wide  of  the  mark  Dr.  Bree's  diag- 
nosis was,  can  be  seen  by  the  following  letter,  also  from 
Brown  to  Taylor:2 

"Hampstead 
Friday  10  March 

DEAR  TAYLOR, 

After  my  dismal  note  I  am  glad  to  be  able  to  give  you 

1  Unpublished  letter  in  Woodhouse  Book.   Morgan  Collection. 

2  Ibid. 


402  JOHN  KEATS 

good  news.  Keats  is  so  well  as  to  be  out  of  danger.  We 
intend,  if  the  weather  remain  kindly,  to  go  to  the  coast  of 
Hants.  He  walked  in  the  garden  to-day.  You  will  suspect 
I  gave  a  useless  alarm,  but  I  wrote  at  the  time  I  was  told  it 
was  possible  he  might  suddenly  be  lost  to  us  in  one  of  those 
fits.  Hessey's  letter  came,  &  I  opened  it,  for  Keats  could 
not  endure  even  the  circumstance  of  a  letter  being  put  in 
his  hands,  —  nor  can  he  bear  it  even  yet,  tho'  I  consider 
him  perfectly  out  of  danger,  &  I  am  happy  to  tell  you  that 
we  are  now  assured  there  is  no  pulmonary  affection,  no 
organic  defect  whatever,  —  the  disease  is  on  his  mind,  and 
there  I  hope  he  will  soon  be  cured. 

Your's  sincerely 

CHAS  BROWN. 
Remember  me  to  Mr.  Hessey." 

Dr.  Bree's  name  in  connection  with  the  case  shows  that 
somebody  had  decided  that  a  more  expert  opinion  than 
Sawrey's  was  needed.  Robert  Bree  was  a  Fellow  of  the 
Royal  College  of  Physicians  and  a  specialist  on  asthma  and 
other  diseases  of  the  respiration.  A  treatise  of  his  on  this 
subject  had,  in  1815,  reached  its  fifth  edition.  Two  papers 
on  The  Use  of  'Digitalis  in  Consumption  show  that  he  had 
some  claim  to  be  considered  a  specialist  in  that  disease 
also.  But,  however  eminent,  Dr.  Bree  was  certainly  a  poor 
diagnostician. 

As  Keats  got  better,  his  mind  reverted  to  his  forthcoming 
book,  and  he  determined  to  look  it  over  and  see  that  the 
poems  were  quite  as  he  wanted  them.  Woodhouse,  as  we 
know,  had  many  copies  of  Keats's  poems,  and  these  seem 
to  have  been  tentatively  put  together  by  the  publishers 
and  submitted  to  him  for  approval.  This  manuscript  he 
had  passed  on  to  Fanny  Brawne,  a  most  natural  thing  to 
do,  and  one  which  proves  her  to  have  been  entirely  in 
Keats's  confidence  as  regards  his  work,  something  which 
posterity  has  been  led  to  doubt.  In  a  note  to  her  which 
seems  to  have  been  written  very  soon  after  this  seizure, 
Keats  says: 


ILLNESS  403 

41 1  am  much  better  this  morning  than  I  was  a  week  ago: 
indeed  I  improve  a  little  every  day.  I  rely  upon  taking  a 
walk  with  you  upon  the  first  of  May:  in  the  meantime 
undergoing  a  babylonish  captivity  I  shall  not  be  jew 
enough  to  hang  up  my  harp  upon  a  willow,  but  rather 
endeavour  to  clear  up  my  arrears  in  versifying,  and  with 
returning  health  begin  upon  something  new:  pursuant  to 
which  resolution  it  will  be  necessary  to  have  my  or  rather 
Taylor's  manuscript,  which  you,  if  you  please,  will  send 
me  by  my  Messenger  either  today  or  tomorrow  .  . .  If  you 
meet  with  anything  better  (worse)  than  common  in  your 
Magazines  let  me  see  it." 

The  last  sentence  makes  it  quite  clear  that  Keats  and 
Miss  Brawne  were  in  the  habit  of  exchanging  opinions  on 
books  as  well  as  the  books  themselves.  Such  little  details 
as  this  have  been  carefully  left  out  of  account  by  writers 
on  Keats.  They  have  believed  Fanny  Brawne  to  have 
been  a  frivolous  and  silly  girl,  and  have  taken  no  pains  to 
verify  the  justness  of  the  charge.  That  it  crumbles  to  the 
ground  on  examination,  my  readers  must  by  this  time  be 
well  aware.  Why  Keats  had  never  been  in  love  before  was 
largely  because  he  had  never  met  a  woman  possessed  of 
both  attraction  and  brains.  Fanny  Brawne  had  both  in 
no  mean  degree,  hence  her  ever-renewing  charm  for  him. 

Another  note  shows  Keats  going  on  mildly  with  his 
work: 

11  It  will  be  a  nice  idle  amusement  to  hunt  after  a  motto 
for  my  Book  which  I  will  have  if  lucky  enough  to  hit  upon 
a  fit  one  —  not  intending  to  write  a  preface." 

The  "fit"  motto  was  not  found,  and  the  volume  ap- 
peared without  one.  Still  a  third  note  continues  the  story. 
(We  must  remember  that  these  notes  were  daily  messages, 
so  that  several  notes  means  no  more  than  the  lapse  of  as 
many  days.)  Miss  Brawne  seems  to  have  worried  lest 
Keats  were  over-exerting  himself,  whereat  he  answers  her; 


4o4  JOHN  KEATS 

"I  do  not  at  all  fatigue  myself  with  writing,  having 
merely  to  put  a  line  or  two  here  and  there,  a  Task  which 
would  worry  a  stout  state  of  body  and  mind,  but  which  just 
suits  me  as  I  can  do  no  more." 

Earlier  in  this  same  note,  Keats  even  allows  himself  a 
little  real  hope,  he  says: 

"Perhaps  on  your  account  I  have  imagined  my  illness 
more  serious  than  it  is:  how  horrid  was  the  chance  of  slip- 
ping into  the  ground  instead  of  into  your  arms  —  the 
difference  is  amazing  Love.  Death  must  come  at  last; 
Man  must  die,  as  Shallow  says;  but  before  that  is  my  fate 
I  fain  would  try  what  more  pleasures  than  you  have  given, 
so  sweet  a  creature  as  you  can  give.  Let  me  have  another 
opportunity  of  years  before  me  and  I  will  not  die  without 
being  remember'd.  Take  care  of  yourself  dear  that  we  may 
both  be  well  in  the  Summer." 

It  must  have  been  just  about  this  time  that  Brown 
wrote  again  to  Taylor.1  This  letter  has  no  date,  but  its 
context  places  it  with  sufficient  exactness: 

"  DEAR  SIR, 

Keats  has  been  slowly  recovering;  yesterday  and  to-day 
however  he  has  been  greatly  altered  for  the  better.  He 
wishes  his  Poems  to  be  published  as  soon  as  convenient  to 
yourself,  —  the  volume  to  commence  with  St.  Agnes  Eve. 
He  was  occupied  yesterday  in  revising  Lamia.  It  is  not  his 
intention  at  present  to  have  a  Preface,  —  at  least  so  we 
talked  together  to-day.  He  desires  to  be  remembered. 
When  will  you  come?  for  he  must  not  venture  to  Town  be- 
fore we  have  mild  weather,  —  &  when?  It  is  very  pleasant 
at  Hampstead  —  in  our  parlour. 

Your's  sincerely 

CHAS  BROWN. 
Don't  let  any  one  take  a  Copy  of  Otho." 

Whether  Taylor  came  out  or  not,  no  one  says,  but  Keats 
certainly  went  in,  tempted  perhaps  by  a  fortunate  change 

1  Unpublished  letter  in  Woodhouse  Book.   Morgan  Collection. 


ILLNESS  405 

of  weather.  A  recently  discovered  letter l  from  Taylor  to 
the  poet,  John  Clare,  leaves  no  doubt  on  the  subject. 
Writing  on  Thursday,  March  sixteenth,  Taylor  says: 

"  Keats  came  to  dine  with  me  the  Day  before  yesterday 
for  the  first  Time  since  his  Illness  —  He  was  sorry  he  did 
not  see  you  —  When  I  read  Solitude  to  him  he  observed 
that  the  description  too  much  prevailed  over  the  Senti- 
ment —  But  never  mind  that  —  it  is  a  good  Fault.1' 

It  was  fortunate  for  Keats  that  dinner  in  his  day  was  an 
afternoon  affair,  for  on  that  Thursday  the  sun  set  at  six 
o'clock,  by  which  hour  we  may  be  very  sure  that  he  was 
safely  back  at  Wentworth  Place.  But,  however  mild  the 
weather,  it  was  a  long  way  to  New  Bond  Street,  and  the 
discussion  of  his  own  and  other  people's  poetry  was  bound 
to  be  exciting.  Keats  seems  to  have  felt  the  effects  of  his 
first  outing  a  little,  if  we  may  judge  from  a  note  to  Miss 
Brawne  which  appears  to  have  been  written  very  soon 
after  this.  He  and  Brown  were  expecting  some  friends  for 
the  evening,  evidently,  in  spite  of  his  fatigue: 

"  In  consequence  of  our  company  I  suppose  I  shall  not 
see  you  before  tomorrow.  I  am  much  better  to-day  — 
indeed  all  I  have  to  complain  of  is  want  of  strength  and  a 
little  tightness  in  the  Chest.  I  envied  Sam's2  walk  with 
you  to-day;  which  I  will  not  do  again  as  I  may  get  very 
tired  of  envying.  I  imagine  you  now  sitting  in  your  new 
black  dress  which  I  like  so  much  and  if  I  were  a  little  less 
selfish  and  more  enthusiastic  I  should  run  round  and 
surprise  you  with  a  knock  at  the  door.  I  fear  I  am  too 
prudent  for  a  dying  kind  of  Lover.  Yet,  there  is  a  great 
difference  between  going  off  in  warm  blood  like  Romeo,  and 
making  one's  exit  like  a  frog  in  a  frost." 

Much  as  Keats  undoubtedly  wanted  to  run  round  to  the 
Brawnes'  and  see  Fanny,  the  exertion  loomed  enormous  to 

1  New  Sidelights  on  Keats,  Lamb,  and  Others.   From  Letters  to  J.  Clare, 
by  Edmund  Blunden.    The  London  Mercury,  June,  1921. 

2  Miss  Brawne's  brother. 


406  JOHN  KEATS 

him.  He  was  still  very  weak,  that  was  the  long  and  the 
short  of  it.  Indeed,  it  seems  as  though  the  work  of  revising 
had  really  been  too  much  for  him.  And  no  wonder;  revis- 
ing poems  is  no  such  easy  matter  as  Keats,  to  allay  her 
fears,  wanted  Fanny  Brawne  to  think.  By  Monday,  March 
twentieth,  he  had  overdone  it,  and  been  commanded  by 
Dr.  Bree  to  write  nothing  for  a  time.  On  that  day,  not- 
withstanding orders,  he  scribbled  a  short  note  to  his  sister, 
in  which  he  said: 

"According  to  your  desire  I  write  to-day.  It  must  be 
but  a  few  lines  for  I  have  been  attacked  several  times  with 
a  palpitation  at  the  heart  and  the  Doctor  says  I  must  not 
make  the  slightest  exertion.  I  am  much  the  same  to-day  as 
I  have  been  for  a  week  past.  They  say  'tis  nothing  but 
debility  and  will  entirely  cease  on  my  recovery  of  my 
strength  which  is  the  object  of  my  present  diet.  As  the 
Doctor  will  not  suffer  me  to  write  I  shall  ask  Mr.  Brown  to 
let  you  hear  news  of  me  for  the  future  if  I  should  not  get 
stronger  soon." 

Apparently  Keats  had  kept  on  with  his  work  in  spite  of 
the  palpitations  until  finally  the  doctor  put  his  foot  down. 
But  it  is  also  possible  that  these  last  notes  to  Fanny 
Brawne  were  written  at  the  end  of  February,  and  not  in 
March,  as  Buxton  Forman  supposes.  These  hand-written 
missives,  sent  from  one  house  to  the  other,  are  entirely 
without  dates,  not  even  the  days  of  the  week  being  given. 
Buxton  Forman  arranged  them  as  well  as  he  could,  and  I 
have  seen  no  reason  to  change  his  order.  The  only  actual 
dates  which  we  have  to  guide  us,  in  this  instance,  are  the 
dates  on  Brown's  two  letters,  that  on  the  letter  from  Tay- 
lor to  Clare  (none  of  which  Buxton  Forman  knew  of),  and 
that  on  the  letter  to  Fanny  Keats.  I  have  cogitated  much 
on  the  subject,  but  have  finally  concluded  that  Buxton 
Forman 's  arrangement  is  probably  correct,  and  that  the 
facts  are  chronologically  as  I  have  stated  them. 

Keats  was  in  a  decidedly  gloomy  frame  of  mind  on  that 


ILLNESS  407 

Monday,  but  the  "present  diet"  certainly  did  him  good, 
for  on  Saturday  he  was  well  enough  to  go  to  town  for  the 
private  view  of  Haydon's  finally  finished  picture,  Christ's 
Entry  into  Jerusalem,  at  the  Egyptian  Hall,  Piccadilly. 

The  Egyptian  Hall  was  a  curious  building.  Its  name  was 
derived  from  its  fagade,  which  represented  a  bad  imita- 
tion of  Egyptian  Architecture.  For  some  years,  it  had 
housed  a  miscellaneous  collection  of  objects,  collected  by 
the  jeweller-naturalist-antiquarian,  William  Bullock.  This 
"London,"  or  "Bullock's,  Museum"  was  an  extremely 
popular  resort  in  the  early  years  of  the  nineteenth  century. 
In  1819,  the  collection  was  sold  at  auction  and  its  premises 
were  to  let.  This  was  Haydon's  opportunity.  He  imme- 
diately hired  the  large  room  upstairs  for  a  year  from  the 
first  of  March,  1820,  and  having  not  a  penny  to  bless  him- 
self with,  agreed  to  pay  a  rental  of  three  hundred  pounds. 
Haydon's  account  of  the  preparation  of  the  room  for  his 
huge  picture  is  among  the  most  amusing  pages  of  his 
Autobiography.  Suffice  it  here  to  say  that,  by  Friday  night, 
March  twenty-fourth,  the  preparations  were  completed, 
and  on  Saturday  the  hall  was  opened  to  the  ticket  holders 
for  the  private  view,  the  public  not  being  admitted  until 
Monday.  The  private  view  was  an  immense  success;  the 
street  was  blocked  with  carriages,  the  passages  rever- 
berated with  voices;  it  was,  says  Haydon,  "a  regular  rout 
at  noon-day."  The  world  of  fashion  had  turned  out  in 
force.  Drama,  literature,  the  arts,  the  church,  the  state, 
and  foreign  states,  all  were  represented,  and  there  was 
the  Persian  Ambassador  in  a  resplendent  native  costume. 
"  The  room  was  full,"  declares  Haydon, "  Keats  and  Hazlitt 
were  up  in  a  corner,  really  rejoicing."  One  wonders  if 
they  really  were.  Hazlitt's  opinion,  expressed  in  the  Edin- 
burgh Review  in  the  following  August,  is  calm;  Keats  men- 
tions the  event  to  his  sister,  but  conspicuously  without 
comment. 

Keats  was  in  no  condition  to  bear  the  hurly-burly  of 


4o8  JOHN  KEATS 

such  a  scene,  yet  it  does  not  seem  to  have  been  so  disas- 
trous as  might  have  been  expected.  A  week  later,  on  April 
first,  he  is  able  to  tell  Fanny  Keats  that  he  is  getting  better 
every  day  although  subject  to  faintness  and  with  the 
tightness  in  his  chest  continuing.  About  this  time,  Brown 
wrote  to  George  Keats,  informing  him  of  Keats's  haemor- 
rhage, but  adding  that  he  was  now  much  better,  and  could 
"walk  five  miles  without  weariness."  One  cannot  help 
fancying  that  Brown  stretched  his  miles  out  a  bit  to  relieve 
George's  mind.  On  Wednesday,  April  twelfth,  Keats  again 
wrote  to  his  sister,  telling  her  that  he  had  been  to  town 
"once  or  twice,"  but  that  he  was  not  yet  able  to  bear  the 
fatigue  of  going  to  Walthamstow. 

Of  the  April  weeks,  we  know  little.  There  are  no  hand- 
sent  notes  to  Fanny  Brawne,  which  looks  as  though  Keats 
were  able  to  go  about  to  a  certain  extent,  and  he  com- 
pleted the  revision  of  his  poems  and  sent  them  to  Taylor 
who  was  thereupon  to  make  up  the  volume.  Keats's  con- 
fidence in  his  judgment  seems  to  have  greatly  pleased 
Taylor.  On  Thursday,  April  twenty-seventh,  he  wrote  to 
Clare: l 

"  I  have  got  all  Keats's  MSS.  in  my  hands  now  to  make 
a  Selection  out  of  them  for  another  volume,  as  I  did  of 
yours,  and  I  should  like  to  write  an  Introduction  too,  as 
Editor,  to  speak  about  the  unfair  Reception  he  has  met 
with  from  the  critics,  &  especially  from  the  Quarterly  Re- 
view; but  perhaps  I  had  better  not." 

As  April  drew  to  a  close,  Keats's  annual  difficulty  pre- 
sented itself  as  a  sinister  horror.  Brown  would  let  his 
house  for  the  Summer,  as  usual,  and  Keats  must  find  some- 
where to  go.  That  Brown  should  have  considered  leaving 
him  in  the  state  he  was  in,  particularly  when  leaving  him 
meant  turning  him  out  of  house  and  home  as  well,  speaks 

1  New  Sidelights  on  Keats,  Lamb,  and  Others.    From  Letters  to  J.  Clare, 
by  Edmund  Blunden.    The  London  Mercury,  June,  1921. 


ILLNESS  409 

not  too  well  for  Brown.  Ignorance  of  the  true  condition 
of  affairs  cannot  be  urged  in  extenuation  of  his  behaviour, 
for  if  any  man  knew  the  complete  facts,  Brown  was  that 
man.  The  callousness  of  his  action  needs  no  emphasiz- 
ing; it  is  patent.  The  motives  which  actuated  him,  little 
as  he  may  have  liked  to  admit  them  to  himself,  seem  to 
have  been  two.  The  first  was  that  he  was  heartily  tired 
of  the  post  of  sick  nurse,  and  longed  to  stretch  his  legs  and 
his  lungs  by  going  on  another  walking  trip  to  Scotland. 
In  short,  he  wanted  to  shake  the  dust  of  illness  from  his 
mind,  and  be  foot-loose  and  free  to  do  what  he  pleased. 
Also,  he  was  expecting  Abigail  Donohue  to  bear  him  a 
child  early  in  July,1  and  he  may  have  thought  it  wiser  not 
to  be  near  Keats  when  that  event  took  place,  for  fear  of 
receiving  an  announcement  of  it,  or  having  to  repair  sud- 
denly to  Ireland.  Not  that  he  had  any  intention  of  doing 
so,  but  it  was  conceivable  that  the  necessity  might  arise. 
Perhaps  it  did;  we  know  nothing  of  his  movements  that 
Summer. 

Brown's  second  motive  was,  I  fear,  purely  financial. 
The  arrangements  between  him  and  Keats,  according  to 
George,2  were  that  they  should  share  the  expenses  of  house- 
keeping. Keats  may  have  paid  off  the  debt  he  had  con- 
tracted the  year  before  with  the  first  hundred  pounds 
drawn  from  Tom's  estate,  but  we  know  from  George  that 
he  had  other  debts  to  discharge,  which  debts,  according  to 
Taylor,3  amounted  to  eighty  pounds  all  told,  exclusive  of 
the  debt  to  Taylor  himself.  When  George  left  to  return  to 
America,  John  had  his  second  hundred  pounds,  and  what- 

1  So  the  unpublished  Memoir  by  his  son  says,  but  from  what  we  know 
of  Brown's  doings  the  Autumn  before,  it  would  seem  that  the  date  should  be 
June.  Under  the  circumstances,  Major  Charles  Brown  may  not  have  known 
exactly  when  he  was  born,  or  the  manuscript  may  have  suffered  a  copyist's 
error.   From  Brown's  leaving  Wentworth  Place  a  month  earlier  than  was 
his  wont,  I  am  strongly  inclined  to  believe  that  the  date  was  really  June. 

2  Letter  to  Dilke.  Author's  Collection. 

8  Unpublished  letter  from  Taylor  to  his  cousin,  Michael  Drury.  Febru- 
ary 19,  1821.  Author's  Collection. 


4io  JOHN  KEATS 

ever,  if  anything,  was  left  of  his  first  hundred.  A  meagre 
amount  to  meet  the  expenses  of  a  Winter,  to  say  nothing 
of  the  Summer  following,  for  George  can  hardly  have  ex- 
pected to  get  any  return  on  his  money  short  of  a  year  at 
least.  George  told  Dilke  in  1 830  that,  when  he  left  London 
in  1820,  a  certain  sum  was  due  Brown,  but  that  John  had 
the  money  to  pay  it,  and  he  believed  did  pay  it.  Now  what 
seems  most  likely  is  that  John  could  pay  it,  but,  if  he  did, 
would  simply  have  been  obliged  to  borrow  again,  and  under 
the  circumstances  the  debt,  or  a  part  of  it,  was  let  stand. 
Certain  it  is  that,  after  Keats's  death,  Brown  sent  in  a  bill 
to  Abbey  of  seventy  pounds  for  money  owed  him  by  Keats, 
which  bill  George  eventually  discharged.  Now  the  Winter 
had  been  a  very  expensive  one,  with  doctors  constantly  in 
attendance,  medicine  to  be  bought,  and  Keats  utterly 
powerless  to  work,  even  for  the  future.  Otho  had  brought 
them  in  nothing,  and  Brown  found  himself  considerably 
concerned  about  his  affairs.  Rent  for  the  house  would  be  a 
present  help,  and  he  could  not  resist  so  evident  a  relief. 

It  is  but  fair  to  Brown,  however,  to  realize  that  he  had 
already  done  a  great  deal  for  Keats,  whose  illness  cannot 
have  helped  being  a  drag  even  on  so  buoyant  a  fellow  as  he. 
Keats's  pathetic  dependence  upon  him,  while  gratifying, 
must  also  have  been  wearying.  The  demands  of  friendship 
may  be  too  great  to  meet,  and  Brown  very  likely  felt  that 
he  needed  a  little  vacation.  His  character,  although  sturdy, 
was  not  of  a  very  high  type,  which  I  think  does  him  com- 
plete justice  in  a  nutshell. 

To  have  to  move  at  this  juncture  was  a  most  unfortu- 
nate thing  for  Keats.  To  hunt  for  lodgings  took  on  the 
proportions  of  a  nightmare,  to  go  and  live  in  them  required 
a  fortitude  of  which  he  hardly  believed  himself  capable. 
His  nervousness  was  pitiable.  Foolish  people,  even  doc- 
tors, suggested  foolish  things.  Somebody  advised  him  to 
give  up  poetry  and  take  up  the  study  of  mathematics; 
somebody  else  —  probably,  this  time,  Dr.  Bree  —  urged 


ILLNESS  411 

Keats  to  make  the  voyage  to  Scotland  in  the  smack  with 
Brown  and  sail  right  back  again,  "  for  change  of  exercise 
and  air." 

After  all,  a  rescuer  was  at  hand  in  the  person  of  Hunt, 
who  was  living  at  13  Mortimer  Terrace,  Kentish  Town, 
not  far  from  Hampstead.  Why  not  lodge  near  him,  urged 
Hunt,  where,  at  least,  he  would  be  close  to  friends  who 
could  keep  an  eye  on  him.  It  was  not  a  happy  solution, 
the  obvious  one  was  his  old  lodging  at  Well  Walk.  But  the 
objection  which  Keats  had  felt  to  that  the  year  before  still 
held  good.  So  Kentish  Town  was  decided  upon,  and  Keats 
found  rooms  which  would  do  at  2  Wesleyan  Place,  and 
moved  into  them  on  either  May  fifth  or  sixth. 

At  first,  Keats  seems  to  have  really  entertained  the  idea 
of  going  up  to  Scotland  in  the  smack  with  Brown.  He 
speaks  of  it  as  a  settled  thing  to  his  sister  in  a  letter  written 
on  the  twenty-first  of  April.  But  before  the  time  of  de- 
parture came,  he  found  he  could  not  make  the  effort.  He 
did,  however,  run  down  as  far  as  Gravesend  with  Brown, 
where  the  friends  bade  each  other  good-bye.  It  was  the 
last  time  they  were  ever  to  see  each  other,  which,  fortu- 
nately, neither  of  them  in  the  least  foresaw.  At  Graves- 
end,  Keats  left  the  smack  and  returned  to  London. 
Brown  says  that  the  smack  sailed  from  London  on  May 
seventh,  which  was  a  Sunday,  and  he  ought  to  know.  But 
Keats  evidently  expected  him  to  sail  on  Saturday.  In 
another  letter  to  his  sister,  written  from  Wentworth  Place 
on  Thursday,  May  fourth,  he  says:  "Mr.  Brown  goes  on 
Saturday."  As  Sunday  seems  rather  an  odd  day  for  a  boat 
to  sail,  I  think  it  possible  that  Brown  confused  the  dates 
of  his  leaving  London  and  his  sailing  from  Gravesend,  and 
that  the  right  date  for  the  London  departure  should  be 
Saturday,  May  sixth.  Nevertheless  it  is  also  quite  possible 
that  the  smack  expected  to  sail  on  Saturday,  but  was  de- 
layed until  Sunday. 

Keats's  moving  into  the  Kentish  Town  lodgings  on  Fri- 


4i2  JOHN  KEATS 

day  or  Saturday  was,  without  doubt,  merely  nominal.  He 
probably  moved  his  belongings  in,  but  stayed  at  Brown's 
until  the  last  minute.  On  his  return,  he  went  directly 
to  Wesleyan  Place,  where  he  seems  to  have  found  wait- 
ing for  him  a  bunch  of  flowers  from  Miss  Brawne,  sent, 
obviously,  to  give  his  new  rooms  a  home  touch.  Hunt, 
too,  must  have  come  round  immediately  to  see  him  and 
cheer  him  up.  Since  sailing  vessels  were  dependent  on  wind 
and  tide,  it  is  quite  probable  that  Keats  spent  a  night 
with  Brown  on  board  the  smack.  It  was  only  three  and  a 
half  hours  from  Gravesend  to  London  by  coach,  so  that 
Keats  was  undoubtedly  returned  by  Monday  night  at  the 
latest.  The  sail  had  done  him  good.  He  came  back  fully 
determined  to  make  the  best  of  a  bad  business  and  get 
through  the  Summer  with  as  little  friction  between  himself 
and  himself  as  possible.  An  undated  letter,  which  appears 
to  be  his  first  from  Kentish  Town  to  Fanny  Brawne,  shows 
his  mood: 


DEAREST  GIRL, 
I  endeavour  to  make  myself  as  patient  as  possible. 
Hunt  amuses  me  very  kindly  —  besides  I  have  your  ring 
on  my  finger  and  your  flowers  on  the  table.  I  shall  not 
expect  to  see  you  yet  because  it  would  be  so  much  pain  to 
part  from  you  again.  When  the  Books  you  want  come  you 
shall  have  them.  I  am  very  well  this  afternoon." 

Keats  was  possessed  of  a  strange  obsession,  without  the 
realization  of  which  it  is  impossible  to  understand  him. 
This  obsession  can  only  be  described  as  a  sort  of  horror  and 
foreboding  which  came  upon  him  whenever  he  was  re- 
moved a  short  distance  from  Fanny  Brawne.  He  often 
suffered  acutely  when  near  her,  as  near  as  next  door,  but 
these  sufferings  were  more  or  less  spasmodic,  and  her  close 
proximity  kept  them  from  going  to  any  very  great  extreme. 
They  remained  sane,  even  when  acute.  Separations  of 
some  considerable  distance,  at  least  while  Keats  remained 


ILLNESS  413 

tolerably  well,  had  the  curious  effect  of  lessening  his  mis- 
ery, particularly  if  they  were  prolonged.  We  have  seen 
this  happen,  first  at  Chichester  and  Bedhampton,  and 
finally  at  Winchester.  Time  and  distance  worked  wonders 
with  him  while  he  was  in  reasonable  health  and  when  his 
exile  was  voluntary.  What  he  could  not  endure  were  sep- 
arations amounting  to  no  more  than  a  few  miles  of  dis- 
tance. A  few  miles  seemed  to  drive  him  into  an  unreason- 
ing frenzy.  He  saw  nothing  but  their  last  parting,  and 
seemed  utterly  unable  to  occupy  himself  with  a  coming 
meeting.  The  agony  of  departure  completely  obscured  the 
joy  of  return.  Every  sort  of  nightmare  took  hold  of  him 
until  he  reached  a  state  verging  on  delirium.  As  soon  as  he 
saw  Fanny,  tantalizing  as  her  presence  was,  his  abnormal 
tortures  instantly  gave  way  to  normal  ones,  if  they  did  not 
vanish  utterly,  as  they  were  quite  apt  to  do.  Why  he  did 
not  realize  this,  and  always  seek  her  when  he  felt  himself 
getting  out  of  hand,  can  only  be  explained  by  the  fact 
that  when  the  fit  was  on  him  his  abnormality  had  reached 
such  a  pitch  that  it  was  quite  out  of  his  power  to  reason 
at  all.  Kentish  Town  was  only  a  very  little  way  from 
Hampstead;  there  was  no  reason  whatever  why  the  daily 
intercourse  should  be  given  up.  It  was  Keats  himself  who 
interdicted  it,  and  made  of  their  occasional  visits  to  each 
other  events  of  huge  import  which  he  must  nerve  himself 
up  to,  and  the  necessary  ends  to  which  left  colossal  regrets. 
The  thing  was  a  phobia,  a  mild  sort  of  madness,  which 
was  all  the  more  shattering  because  of  its  hallucinatory 
character. 

Keats  had  evidently  made  good  resolutions  as  to  his 
conduct  in  advance  this  year,  but  he  comprehended  himself 
on  this  score  so  little  that  here  at  the  outset  he  lays  the 
gunpowder  train  which  is  certain  to  blow  him  to  bits  before 
long.  He  tells  Fanny  Brawne  that  he  shall  not  expect  to  see 
her  for  some  time  as  he  cannot  bear  the  idea  of  another 
leave-taking. 


4i4  JOHN  KEATS 

A  week  later,  he  is  still  fairly  balanced,  for  he  sends  her 
this  note,  dated  merely  "Tuesday  Afternoon." 

"MY  DEAREST  FANNY, 

For  this  Week  past  I  have  been  employed  in  marking  the 
most  beautiful  passages  in  Spenser,  intending  it  for  you, 
and  comforting  myself  in  being  somehow  occupied  to  give 
you  however  small  a  pleasure.  It  has  lightened  my  time 
very  much.  I  am  much  better.  God  bless  you. 

Your  affectionate 
J.  KEATS." 

Not  very  effusive,  we  observe,  he  evidently  feared  to  give 
himself  a  free  rein,  but  calm  and  steady.  In  spite  of  his  ban, 
Keats  must  have  seen  Fanny  Brawne  with  considerable 
frequency  during  his  first  six  weeks  at  Kentish  Town,  for 
during  that  interval  we  have  only  these  two  little  notes  to 
her  and  one  long  letter,  and  in  the  mood  in  which  he  was 
we  may  be  quite  sure  that,  had  he  not  seen  her  often,  there 
would  have  been  more.  How  much  Fanny  Brawne  valued 
this  Spenser,  we  have  already  seen.1  She  cherished  the 
volume  for  many  years  until  it  was  unhappily  lost  on  a 
journey  to  Germany. 

Keats  continued  to  improve  a  little.  On  Monday,  May 
fifteenth,  he  told  Brown: 

"You  know  I  was  very  well  in  the  Smack;  I  have  con- 
tinued much  the  same,  and  am  well  enough  to  extract  much 
more  pleasure